30 Mar 2011

Newport Beach Loves Books

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Newport Beach Loves Books Clarifying Rumors About the Balboa Branch Library Posted Date: 3/30/2011 4:00 PM

A recent news story has led to the rumor that Newport Beach is getting rid of the stacks of books in its libraries. We are not. While the article itself was not entirely inaccurate, some key details were left out of a print version and we suspect that caused a misunderstanding among those unfamiliar with the Newport Beach Public Library system.

That news story was picked up and, as often happens once a rumor gets started, it’s been misinterpreted to the point that some people think Newport Beach is switching to a fully digital library format. That could not be further from the truth. We love our books. While we’ve been somewhat amused at how quickly (and now how inaccurately) the information is being reported far and wide, the misinformation is causing concern among some Newport Beach citizens and we need to set the record straight.

The short version:

The City’s libraries are not going “bookless.” We place a very high value on books, both for their literary and research value, as well as personal entertainment and enjoyment. We spend over $600,000 every year to add to our collections and have Library personnel dedicated to reviewing and ordering books, CDs, DVDs, and other material. We are continuously evaluating our four library locations and considering how to best utilize them to meet the needs of our community in a cost-effective way. Newport Beach Public Library was recently awarded a four-star rating in the Hennen Guide to Libraries and consistently rates at the top of libraries in our population group across the state of California.

The longer explanation:

The Balboa Branch Library, located on the Balboa Peninsula, was the City’s first library but today it accounts for about six percent of the 1.3 million visitors that utilize Newport Beach Public Libraries each year. While the City recognizes that the Balboa Branch is beloved by many in the community, statistics show that it is underutilized when compared to the money spent staffing and maintaining it.

During a planning meeting for the Marina Park Project last week, the idea of moving the Balboa Branch Library in 2014 into a brand new community center complex was raised. This would reduce staffing and maintenance costs, and would get us out of a building that’s 82 years old and needs to be updated. During that discussion, the project committee talked about ways the services provided at the branch library could be changed to better fit the community’s needs.

Visitor data from the Balboa branch indicates that residents use the branch primarily for reading, using the internet and studying. DVD loans are the most popular service provided, but books and other printed materials are also popular choices. Kids’ programming is important here, too. It should be no surprise that technology is changing libraries the way that it has affected just about every other business and service in the world.

Thus, the concept of a study center with computers, Wi-Fi, study tables, comfy chairs, and DVD and CD loans began to develop. The branch might not house stacks of books (it still could – we’re still reviewing our options), but library patrons could “order” books from the large Central Library (located about four miles away) and have them delivered to Marina Park the next day. This branch could be construed as a “digital library,” but the Newport Beach Public Library system would have plenty of books and other printed materials readily available for borrowing. The Marina Park facility would also be used for special library programs, story times, summer reading programs, lectures and workshops, and other library-related activities.

A few things are in play here – optimizing City services and facilities, effectively allocating the City budget, and efficiently meeting the needs of Newport Beach citizens.

The City of Newport Beach, like many communities, is reducing expenditures, privatizing, and looking at new ways of delivering services in light of increased personnel costs. Making sure that our libraries, like this specific branch, are tailored to the needs of the community is an important part of that review.

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