WELCOME TO ANOTHER CURIOUS STORY: Reader Leonard Baron wondered “What happened to the proposal for the city to build a bigger library building?” Reporter Dylan Sirdofsky discovered a local organization that’s working on that project right now.
LANTERN, a non-profit organization of local library supporters, is on a mission to expand and improve Sebastopol Regional Library, with a plan to tackle its biggest problem: a lack of space. The organization’s goal is to make the library two stories tall.
LANTERN, which stands for The Library Association for a New Techno-current Regional Entity, launched a new website and sent out a detailed brochure in March to homes throughout west county, hoping to make its message clear and raise money.
The Sebastopol library was built in 1974, when the population of the town was 4,300. It now serves more than 41,978 people in broader west county, and it’s busier than ever.
An expansion would provide more study rooms, quiet and small group areas, allow for more technology and books, among a host of other helpful features that were listed in a 2015 Needs Assessment survey.
“We do need a larger library, that’s pretty universal across the board,” Sebastopol Library Manager Matthew Rose said in an interview with three other LANTERN board members. “Everyone is saying that they want more books, more access to quiet study spaces.”
Ray Holley, community relations manager for Sonoma County Library, said they’re aware that Sebastopol, like other branches, has space constraints. Building a library is a complicated, expensive process, he said. Holley confirmed they are trying to improve and update each branch, and Sebastopol is on the list.
“Our funds and personnel resources only allow us to work on one at a time,” Holley said in a phone interview, “and Petaluma is the one we’re working on right now.”
But LANTERN, which was founded in 2013, doesn’t want to wait. The LANTERN board has 10 members in total, including vice chairperson Clark Mitchell, an artist/businessman, and Lena Chen, an architect who has worked with the San Francisco library system in the past.
Mitchell and Chen are working on plans to rebuild the current library, creating artistic renderings of a two-story library.
At first, LANTERN considered moving to another location, but based on public input, the group realized that people like the library’s existing location near downtown.
A 2017 massing study on shape, form and size of this building was presented to the city council, which is in agreement on the location.
“People want the library to stay here,” retired librarian and LANTERN Chairperson Arlene Kallen said. “We’ve been looking at ways how can this building be expanded.”
The needs assessment indicated the library will require double the square footage.
“The two-story, about 20,000-square-foot building, could accommodate most of the needs that have been identified so far,” Chen said.
The members of LANTERN believe there is a misperception about the place of libraries in today’s world. While the internet and e-books have changed how libraries operate in communities, these innovations haven’t put libraries out of business.
In addition to print books, the library also delivers e-books and several streaming video services, and remains a free and open access point for information. It has transitioned from people asking traditional reference questions to providing drop-in tech help.
“A lot of people have an idea that libraries are a 20th century institution operating in the 21st century,” Rose said. “I think that’s absolutely insane, based on the use we have.”
Rose encourages everyone in west county to respond to LANTERN’s survey, which asks users what they want to see in their future library.
“We want to find out what the community is looking for,” said Kallen. “We’re hoping to have a community meeting in the near future.”
LANTERN’s approach has been to ask for a lot of feedback ahead of time, so as not to develop a design, present it and then have it scrapped and thrown away. Rose said they haven’t had any missteps because of how closely they’re looking at what the community wants.
“People refer to it as their library, because it really is their library,” Rose said. “We’re not going to create LANTERN’s library or my library. It’s going to still be a community library.”