A 20-year facility plan and five-year strategic plan for the Dallas Public Library system found 11 library branches in need of “moderate to significant” expansion or replacement, according to a presentation given to the city council Monday.

Sign up for our newsletter!

* indicates required

The city-wide library assessment and plan was the first conducted since pre-COVID said Jill Eyres, an associate principal for Group 4 Architecture, the firm who led the planning project. The plan was developed over the course of a year, taking into account community meetings and digital and analog surveys. 2,800 digital survey responses were submitted, while 530 analog responses were submitted.

The facility plan found that the Dallas Public Library system has kept up with the area’s population growth since the last facility initiative, and the 29 libraries in the DPL system are “well distributed.”

But the plan recommended keeping up with projected population growth in the region by expanding or replacing 11 existing, smaller branches across the city, instead of opening additional branches.

“Each one of those comes with a pretty substantial operating cost. It’s more staff. The strategy that should be more efficient to staff is expand the little libraries that you have,” Eyers said.

Nine library branches were classified as needing renovation or reimagining, including the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library which was one of two libraries found to be “in less than good condition” in a recent city facilities assessment.

“I was surprised to see how many libraries need replacement. I know we have, in the bond, two replacements,” council member Gay Donnell Willis said. “I see you have several more in this plan that need that, so I think that’s important for residents to know. That we’re sort of chipping away at this.” 

Willis and council member Paula Blackmon said they support exploring mixed-use developments in future library builds, including multi-story buildings that function as housing on upper levels and a library on lower levels.

Assistant Director of Dallas Public Library Heather Lowe also said the facility plan will address the strain the library system puts on city-wide IT. The library system has over 900 public computers, plus additional technology for staff or special uses, Lowe said.

“We put a lot of pressure on the IT department and we are looking for ways to make the customer experience better and to be more efficient and nimble moving forward,” she said.

In a five-year strategic plan, Lowe outlined eight goals for the library system. Top priorities were creating opportunities for learning and discovery, providing customer-responsive technology, cultivating a vibrant materials collection and reducing barriers to access.

“That is across the board, whether it is a cultural barrier, a physical barrier or any other kind of barrier, we want to make sure people can access the Dallas Public Library,” Lowe said.

Council member Adam Bazaldua said he is concerned about limited hours at library facilities. The 20-year facilities plan focused on “big, audacious goals,” while an “entire population” is unable to access the libraries due to operating hours, he said.

“I don’t really agree necessarily with investing tons of dollars in increasing the size of our libraries when all of our libraries still close at 5 p.m.,” Bazaldua said. “Any municipality that touches the city of Dallas’ borders, every single municipality offers their public libraries later than we do. And we are Dallas. I think that’s a big issue.”