EL CERRITO -- The city has completed an important first step toward building a new library by updating an 8-year-old evaluation of features and services the community would like the facility to offer.
The new study, known as a needs assessment, was completed in February and is based on information gathered last fall at community meetings, site visits and mail-in responses, coupled with research on the latest trends in library architecture and technology.
The assessment concluded that El Cerrito needs a new one-story building of about 20,000 square feet with about 190 seats, 66 laptop and desktop computers and shelf space for about 60,000 books, according to Kathryn Page, the consultant who wrote the latest report and the earlier 2006 document.
The envisioned replacement library would be about three times the size of the existing library, which was built in 1948 and enlarged in 1960.
The current facility, at 6510 Stockton Ave., is 6,500 square feet and has 86 seats, eight computers and space for 36,000 books.
Despite its constrained conditions, the demand for library services at the El Cerrito branch has surged over the past 10 years, with library usage up 57 percent and circulation increasing more than 90 percent since 2002, Page said.
"The current building is one-third the size of what a modern library should be," Page told the City Council in a March 4 presentation. "It's outdated and was never intended to support the kind of technology that is available today."
The assessment recommends that a new facility include space for computer-based workshops, a tutoring and homework study area separate from the main seating area, and a separate community meeting room with seating for 125.
"Ample seating capacity, zoned by activity and acoustical level, including quiet 'oasis' space for comfortable reading, study tables for concentrated solo work, parent/child seating, casual interactive seating, enclosed group use space, is arguably the most important element in a successful library today," according to the assessment.
As it is now, computer users, students doing homework, tutoring sessions and library users browsing the book collections all share the same space with no sound separation in the existing library, Page said.
"Having flexible space where kids can go is essential," she said. "Give them a place to collaborate and they'll come."
A new library would be stocked with e-books and e-readers, but the assessment recommends that the city also increase its collection of printed material.
Page said the collections of many new libraries are almost completely electronic, but that there has also been "a resurgence of love for traditional books."
"We think it's an enduring value that is going to continue," she said.
The assessment also mentions including some sort of café or food service and a retail store or book store, the profits from which could help pay for library services.
The selection of a site could be based on partnership or joint use with another agency to create a campus "that would serve several purposes," Page said.
Operational costs could be reduced by installing new technology, such as machines that allow borrowers to check out materials themselves.
Taking the advice of pollster Bryan Godbe of Godbe Research in San Mateo, the council has an eye on raising the money for the library through a bond election in November of 2016 to take advantage of expected high voter turnout in a U.S. presidential election year.
The library bond will take a two-thirds supermajority vote of El Cerrito residents to pass, Godbe said.
Mayor Janet Abelson said the council is unclear at this point how much it will cost to build a library that matches the description in the needs assessment.
"We can assume that the cost of the work and the cost of the materials will be in flux," she said.