Consultants Say F.C. Library Needs to Prepare for Doubling in Use by 2033

PRESENTING A PRELIMINARY report on their findings, consultants commissioned to project the future needs of Falls Church’s Mary Riley Styles Public Library spoke to a work session of the F.C. City Council Monday. Left to right: Richard Waters of Godfrey’s Associates, chief librarian Mary McMahon, David Moore of McMillan, Pazdan, Smith and library board member Brad Gernand. (Photo: News-Press)

Internet Will Not Cut Popularity of Books, They Say

A team of consultants retained by the Mary Riley Styles Public Library Board of Trustees to evaluate and make recommendations concerning the next 20 years’ needs for the popular downtown City of Falls Church library told the F.C. City Council Monday that their final recommendations, due in October, are leaning strongly toward an horizontal expansion of the library at its current location.

The preferred approach contained in the “Master Plan Development and Space Study Review” plan would include an additional 130 parking spaces, perhaps achieved by a “win-win” use of surface parking space at an adjacent medical building to build a parking deck that could add a total of 200 new parking spaces and serve future needs at the nearby City Hall as well.

The team of Esoarc, Godfrey’s Associates and McMillan, Pazdan, Smith, with extensive experience in library development, assured the Council that contrary to popular myths these days, libraries are not going extinct due to the Internet, and never will.

“There is not one library anywhere in the world that is planning to go smaller in size,” stated consultant Richard Waters of Godfrey’s Associates. He said that certain things, like DVDs and CDs, will disappear because all that data will be downloadable off the Internet, but “books are permanent, they will be in use by us forever just as books now 400 years old still are.”

He said that the Mary Riley Styles Library “is at the perfect location,” and will be used far more in the future than it is now, because it is surrounded by residential, government and business institutions. “Its reaches more people than any part of City government, and for ages 0 to 5, it is critical for mental development.”

“The overwhelming opinion” in the vast numbers of interviews through focus groups and online that the consultant group did in Falls Church the last two months “favors the library remaining on the current site, because if is centrally located and has a synergy with City Hall and the Cherry Hill Park right across the street,” said library director Mary McMahon.

Architect David Moore of the South Carolina-based McMillan, Pazdan, Smith told the Council that current library is “highly valued, loved and popular” at its current location, and that projecting out 20 years, it will need to grow from its current 18.500 square feet to 33,000 square feet to accommodate anticipated growth in use. In 20 years, it was projected, there will be demand for two million users a year.

They said that cost of the kind of expansion they are likely to recommend when the final report comes to the City Council on Oct. 14 will be $12 to $15 million, not counting any potential adjacent land acquisition or construction of a parking deck.

They said that a significant upgrade of the Virginia Room at the library would help to attract other collections to the library.

In a “snapshot” of library use presented in the report, between 2009 and 2013, there was an increase in “total contacts” with the library from 815,375 to 970,992, a gain of 19.2 percent, and that number that is projected to grow to 1,960,290 by 2033. Today, it noted, there are five uses every minute of every day, and in 2033 that will grow to 10 every minute.

There was no appetite Monday by anyone on the Council to encourage the consultants to include options that might call for a relocation of a part, if not all, the library to a new municipal center, an idea that surfaced during discussions of area planning options earlier this year. Councilman Phil Duncan’s suggestion that there be an “agnostic” projection of what library needs and designs might look like without being tied to a particular location were met with a concern that would present a lack of specifics to work from.

The final version of the report will be provided to the City Council and the Library Board later this fall.