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Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Resource Guide Collection

MPLCP Planning & Design: The Committee

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration

This is an excerpt of an article from American Libraries, Sept./Oct. 2013. It was written by Peter Gisolfi, the architect of the vibrant Darien, Connecticut library.

Successful libraries are designed collaboratively...It’s a process that requires listening to every voice with a stake in the outcome and establishing a clear set of goals and paths to meet them. The first step is to form a building committee that represents various constituencies: political representatives of the wider community, the library board of trustees, the professional staff, frequent library users, interested citizens, and donors. All have vital ideas and opinions. The design process involves analyzing the physical and cultural setting for the building, preparing a program of space requirements, establishing clear objectives for the project, and preparing and critiquing a series of alternative design approaches...The collaboration is time-consuming and rigorous. It moves forward, but its iterative nature may slow it down. This is to be expected and is ultimately worthwhile. As the project evolves, the architect, the building committee, and outside constituencies gradually move to a plan that satisfies everyone. This process works. When successful, the library belongs in its physical and cultural settings, reflects the objectives and values of the various constituencies linked to the project, and is integral to the community and the citizens for which it was designed.


Image of committee meeting

A rose by any other name...

The name of this planning committee can vary.

You may choose to call it a library space planning committee, library facility needs committee, feasibility study committee or something else.

Whatever it is called, it should be established according to municipality protocol for establishing city/town committees. It is charged with completing the space planning and schematic design phase of a major library building project.

Who is responsible?

Roles: The Library Facility Needs Committee (or whatever yours is called) is an ad hoc committee of the board of trustees. It works within the parameters defined by the board and works with the director to achieve goals.

The outline below illustrates the distinction between the various roles:

  • Board of Trustees
    • Is the legal authority
    • Votes on recommendations
    • Accountable to community
  • Library Facility Needs Committee
    • Is a board subcommittee
    • Reports to & makes recommendations to the board
  • Library Director
    • Is the Committee/Project Coordinator
    • Answers to the board

Who should be on it?

In order to launch a building project a board of trustees establishes a study committee comprised of interested individuals and library supporters (and even skeptics), community leaders, library staff and local officials. This committee will plant the seeds that, after much hard work, will eventually become an improved library building.

Keep the following in mind when forming your committee:

1. The politics

  • Your town or city may have a standing or permanent Building Committee. If so, it's critical that the library director and at least two trustees be accepted as attendees, or preferably voting members, for the duration of your project
  • If the committee is formed for this project, make sure you follow local bylaws for appointing members
  • Local officials and community leaders should be represented
  • The members must represent all facets of your community

2. The skills

  • Committee members must represent the best interests of the community
  • They must be connected and respected in all facets of local life
  • They must be or become knowledgeable about public libraries and their vital role in society
  • They must work cooperatively and be problem solvers
  • They must have good communication skills and be willing to stay in close touch when necessary
  • They must have time, flexibility and willingness to devote to meetings and committee tasks

There's no magic number for how many people should serve on the committee, but it's good to remember that it's a working committee, not a talking committee. A lot of work is involved.

What are they supposed to do?

The committee does the legwork that makes it possible for them to make informed recommendations to the library trustees. The trustees have the legal authority to make legal decisions regarding the project.

Committee members will work with the library director to:

  • Hire a library building consultant (if desired) to conduct a needs assessment and contribute to the library building program
  • Visit as many recently-built libraries as possible (see Field Trip List below) in order to educate themselves on library trends and innovations
  • Receive the needs assessment data and discuss how the information will affect major aspects of the project
  • Research all viable locations and choose at least two for the architect to analyze
  • Receive the draft building program and edit or request additional data if necessary
  • When completed, present the building program to the trustees for approval
  • Issue the RFP/RFQ for the Owner's Project Manager and supervise the bidding process
  • Recommend the preferred candidate to the trustees
  • Work with the OPM to issue the RFQ for the architect and supervise the bidding process
  • Recommend the preferred candidate to the trustees
  • Negotiate fees with the architect and execute the contract
  • Oversee schematic design process
  • When completed, present schematic design to the trustees for approval