City staff to address details of East Branch-SPC library merger

CLEARWATER — City officials are moving forward with a proposed partnership between the East Branch Library and St. Petersburg College’s Drew Street campus, but there still are plenty of details to be worked out.

Plans under discussion call for moving the city’s library at 2251 Drew St. into a newly designed building, funded as a joint venture with the college campus at 2465 Drew St., much like the arrangement at SPC’s Seminole and St. Petersburg/Gibbs campuses.

While the cost of the joint project in Clearwater hasn’t been determined, the city has set aside $6.25 million in the third round of Penny for Pinellas sales tax proceeds to expand its East Branch.

Barbara Pickell, the city’s library director, told the council at a Monday work session that several differences must be worked out before an agreement is signed to house two very different libraries under one roof.

One of those differences is their user bases. The college library serves students and professional staff, while the East Branch is designed to meet the needs of the general public, especially a growing youth and Hispanic population in the surrounding neighborhood, she explained. Because of that, city library officials want to increase the facility’s early literacy programs.

“Youth services are our number one priority,” Pickell said. “This branch heavily serves children and families.”

She estimated that a joint facility would be used 85 percent of the time by the general public and 15 percent by college students and staff.

Another difference is hours of operation. City libraries generally open around 10 a.m., while college libraries open at 7:30 a.m. Earlier operating times would increase the city’s costs, such as for staffing. In addition, the college library closes during school breaks while city libraries remain open.

The methods in which books are classified, catalogued and tracked also vastly differ and could be problematic, Pickell said. The college uses the Library of Congress Classification, while the city library employs the Dewey Decimal System.

Developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the LCC divides all knowledge into 21 basic classes, each identified by a single letter. Most of these alphabetical classes are divided further into more specific subclasses, identified by two-letter, or occasionally three-letter, combinations.

The Dewey Decimal System organizes information into 10 broad areas, which are broken into smaller and smaller topics. Different topics are assigned numbers, known as “call numbers.”

Librarians checking out books in a joint facility would have to use separate software programs, Pickell said.

“There is no way to bring these two together in any useful fashion,” she said.

Pickell also noted concerns about the availability of meeting rooms. “We don’t think we need to own meeting space, but we do think we should have access when needed … for community meetings.”

However, she concluded, “None of these are barriers we cannot move beyond.”

Council member Hoyt Hamilton agreed. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but the hurdles are not insurmountable. It’s just a matter of negotiating and reasonable heads coming together.”

Council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito noted that the joint libraries in Seminole and St. Petersburg are working successfully.

However, Assistant City Manager Jill Silverboard said those operations aren’t applicable in this case.

“We do have some unique circumstances,” she said. “We’re unionized, they are not; we are automated, they are not. The college is not interested in the same arrangement.”

While more discussion is required before final approval could be granted by the city and college, officials hope a joint library will open in spring 2017.

Because the college proposes that an agreement be reached in August, Mayor George Cretekos directed city staff “to hammer out the details so we can see where we are” and report back in July.

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