Design Thinking Resources

Community debates Buncombe library plan

Is bigger always better, or is less sometimes more? Those two design philosophies are colliding in discussions over an $81 million slate of recommended changes to the Buncombe County Public Libraries.

As outlined by architect Maureen Arndt, principal of Dallas-based consultancy 720 Architects, in a Library Master Plan commissioned by the county, the proposal would shift Buncombe’s system away from a hub-and-spoke design centered on Asheville’s Pack Memorial Library. The libraries would instead use a regional branch model, in which bigger, newly renovated facilities throughout the county provide patrons with more services.

Such an approach, Arndt says, would boost the county’s overall library square footage and programming while increasing access for all residents. “One of the most important considerations was to address the buildings that are in the worst physical condition from an architectural, structural, mechanical/electrical/plumbing perspective,” she adds. “The regional system can solve other major challenges as well — including safety concerns for libraries that have a single staff member working at a time, libraries that lack adequate parking and less duplication of books and services.”

But to focus resources on these regional branches, the plan would close three existing libraries in Black Mountain, Oakley/South Asheville and Swannanoa. Neighborhood groups in those areas fiercely oppose the changes, as they’ve made clear in recent community listening sessions hosted by the county.

“Even though things are, in some instances, pretty desperate in terms of facilities, this attitude that we prefer what we have over something new is different in my experience,” says Ruth O’Donnell, chair of the county’s Library Advisory Board and a former library consultant. “A lot of people we’ve talked to have interest in smaller, neighborhood libraries. The thinking amongst the people, certainly half of them or more, is that it doesn’t matter how big it is, how many resources it has, just that they are very opposed to change.”

Second thoughts

Oakley library