New, big CHPL almost ready

The library will be closing today to move back into their building which has been renovated and greatly expanded. Are you excited?

Chapel Hill Public LIbrary Expansion Project from Town of Chapel Hill, NC on Vimeo.



At the temporary library, we could go to the Farmer's Market, shop at Southern Season, maybe see something entertaining in the mall, go get lunch, and we could get there by biking and taking the bus. At the permanent library site, we drive there, do library stuff, and leave.

While I understand the financial factors that influenced the CHPL to stay at their old/new site, their location at UMall was such a boon to Orange County residents, mall traffic and library traffic itself.  In an age when shopping malls are pretty much our defacto town centers, CHPL helped UMall become an actual community center and gathering place.Especially for parents of young children (like myself), going to UMall became an interesting plan for a cold or rainy day, and all the businesses benefited (in our case, especially Village Burger, Red Hen and Southern Season).  The library probably did well for itself by recruiting new members, but I'd be surprised if their traffic didn't drop off once they move to their old, isolated location.  For myself alone, I've been in the CH area for 12+ years, and I've gone to the library about 20 times in the past year, versus about 3 times total in the 10 years before their move.  As parents of young children, we will still be going for storytime occasionally, but I wonder how many other residents will feel the same.

While I think the size and resources of the new library will be great, I completely agree with you, Geoff. I found myself taking my son to the library much more often when I could combine the trip with other destinations. We could do things he likes, run errands for me, and could even get there by bus on the weekend (or at least only have to get in and out of the car seat once when we drove).In fact, when this "Pritchard Park" library site was chosen in the 1990's I was on the Chapel Hill Transportation Board, and I voted against it because of the inconvenient location (was not even on a bus route) and pedestrian-hostile site layout at the top of a hill.

Thanks. I appreciate that the library has had its site there and there were good reasons not to abandon it and move it elsewhere, particularly to U Mall. It's just unfortunate that it was put there at the start.(I hope to have an opinion piece in the Chapel Hill News about this very topic soon...) 

Just announced: Susan Brown, former branch manager of the Carrboro Cybrary, will be the new librarian for the Chapel Hill Public Library. Susan is no stranger to OP: can look forward to great things from the reopened Library: more (and very beautiful) space, more books, more (and more accessible) meeting rooms, an expanded reach and mission (e.g. the new teen area and enlarged children's area), and a dynamic new director to carry it forward with a strong emphasis on community engagement. Congratulations, Susan! I look forward to working with you.  Sally Greene

That is really great news. We'll all benefit from her local experience. I look forward to a more forward-looking library!

Susan's blog at: 

I love libraries and I plan on using the new Chapel Hill Library. But I'm disappointed that in Chapel Hill we have decided to build a bigger SUBURBAN library. As we all know more suburban car oriented development contributes to an increase in greenhouse gases and a lot of other bad stuff in our air. What's most disappointing is that this was done with my tax money by my "progressive" Town government. I really don't want to hear a "pragmatic" rebuttle that "We have to deal with what we have". Because there were several moments in time where the Town could have decided to build a urban library.

I'll leave the detailed technical analysis of why a urban library is better to Patrick McDonough. I hope Carrboro will get their Library right. But based on how the County Staff is thinking about location I'm not holding my breath.

I wrote an op-ed about the benefits of the library's temporary location at University Mall and the drawbacks of the permanent location that was published in this Sunday's Chapel Hill News.

Great column, Geoff. I couldn't agree more.

the new library with a second "main" entrance will be more expensive to staff at a time when the town will be hard pressed to maintain current pre-libarary-remodel service levels. I say this as someone who also loved the old library, but thought the UMall location, while not as closely linked to the natural world, was a lot more accessible. 

Geoff raised some very good points.  And Ruby has previously pointed out that perhaps the Library shouldn't have been sited at Pritchard Park to begin with.  But as Geoff also pointed out the UMall location was vetted and after such vetting the reasons not to go there (it's in a flood plain, stability of Mall management, finances, lack of outdoor space, etc) outweighed the positives.We have a gorgeous new Library that will provide community meeting space that this town has long needed and resources to help the economically disadvantaged as well.  Yes, it is not easily accessible.  But how many of those complaining know that there was a bus route to the Library that was discontinued for lack of ridership.  So maybe instead of jumping on the naysayer bandwagon some of you really creative folks can put your efforts in trying to find solutions, instead of emphasizing what's not ideal.  Perhaps a small shuttle between the Library and the Mall could be a win-win for both Library patrons and Mall patrons.  So let's be thankful that we even have a Library (even those in Carrboro can join this chorus) because some don't have that luxury, and figure out what we, the citizens, can do now to make it even better.

Hi George:I appreciate your pointing out that I mentioned there were downsides to U Mall as a permanent location. I hope I was clear that my issue really wasn't with the decision to renovate the current library in place, but rather the decision to site it on top of a hill up a long driveway in the first place.One point I would like to respond to, though: "But how many of those complaining know that there was a bus route to the Library that was discontinued for lack of ridership." I do. And one of the main reasons that there was low ridership, I'm sure, is that it's the only destination at that stop. There's no reason to take the bus to the library stop unless you are going to the library. That's unlike the stops on Franklin Street, in downtown Carrboro, at UNC, and at the UNC medical campus where there are many different destinations all served by the same stop. It's the agglomeration of different uses within walking distance from each other that makes transit work. On Franklin Street, it's the plethora of shops, restaurants, bars, and housing. University Mall also has a number of destinations. A standalone library almost by definition cannot be well served by transit.From the transit perspective, the other consideration is its location on the top of the hill. It's one thing to slot an extra stop along an existing route on Franklin Street or on Estes. (I have no idea if the V, S, 800 etc. stopped at the UNC imaging center on NC 54 before the facility opened, but that stop has a minimal impact on route running time.) But it's another to require a bus to make a special detour up a steep incline. It lengthens the trip for everyone else riding the bus, depressing ridership, and increases operating costs much more than an additional stop along an existing transit corridor.So if there's no one taking the bus to the library then, given the substantial impact on operating costs and the cost in time to all the other passengers on the route, it's hard to argue for keeping it.A shuttle between the library and the mall could potentially work. But that costs money that wouldn't need to be spent if the library had been sited better. These are the kinds of costs that can be avoided with better planning.

"But that costs money that wouldn't need to be spent if the library had been sited better."Geoff, my point is that the Library is where it is, like it or not, and nothing we can do now will change that fact.  What is done, is done.  What we can do is begin to figure out how we can make that location work better for everyone by putting our creative energy to use finding novel solutions.  For example, the designers of the renovation included a slow, curving path up to the top that will allow walkers or bike riders to avoid the steepness of Library Drive.  It is, of course, longer, but it at least avoids the sharp incline.  And I can't help but think that some of those who don't like the Pritchard Park location will still manage to sit out on the new terrace, enjoying the beautiful view while reading on a lovely afternoon or early evening.

The library is where it is. Moving forward, though, I think we all can agree that we need to be aware of the full consequences of decisions on where to site public (and private) facilities. If we want to be a community that encourages public transit, non-motorized transportation, and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, then we need to plan with these things in mind.The location of the library is particularly relevant as Orange County is deciding where to locate a southern branch of its library system, and I hope they take a close look at our library's location and its drawbacks as they do so. To that end, check out this extensive and perceptive discussion of the OC library site selection process over at have no doubt that the library will be lovely, and I look forward to checking it out. I also know that my family and I won't be visiting as often, and that makes me a bit sad. (Although we will probably end up buying more books from Flyleaf, which I find easier to bike to with the family than the library's permanent location, so that's probably better for Town and county finances.)

I just wanted to say, Geoff, that I piggybacked off of your column and the website above and submitted my own letter to Chapel Hill News, which was just printed Sunday as a guest commentary.  It's not about CHPL (although I mention it), but rather the siting of the new Southern Orange County Library that Patrick McDonough writes about at the excellent blogpost above.My commentary: 

It's an interesting coincidence that the siting of the OC branch library is coming up at the same time that the Chapel Hill Library is moving back to its suburban digs. I enjoyed your article, Blake, and recommend it to all Carrboro residents. Y'all have a chance to keep your town from making the same mistake (or, more accurately,given that it's the County that's deciding where to put a library branch, having the same mistake forced upon them).

I think Geoff's main point (and mine) was that we have to be smarter about our land-use decisions so we don't keep finding ourselves in this ridiculous situation. If our governments - which are supposed to be thinking about the whole community's long-term wellbeing - can't get this right, how can we expect anyone else to do it?Chapel Hill used to be considered a model of visionary local government in NC, but I don't see so much leadership in the last few years.

Ruby, I agree that we need to learn from our mistakes.  And it is important to point out how things could have been done differently (and better).  But a lot of residents (of CH, Carrboro, and OC) probably weren't even here two decades ago when the decision was made to locate the Library in Pritchard Park.  And certainly urban planning was not nearly as well thought out then as now.  But even if you assume that we have a lemon of a site (a point of view I don't fully ascribe to although I certainly understand and accept why many do) my question to you and Brian and Geoff and Barbara and many others, is how do we make lemonade?

I hear your frustration, George, and I have some sympathy. You're right, the original site was chosen a generation ago. I've enjoyed it and even biked to it for a while until it became too much for me personally. My frustration, which perhaps I should also release, was that we had an opportunity to advance the library's mission, making the library accessible to an even wider spectrum of the community and making it more cost effective to operate (in a time when the town is likely going to need to start cutting services in order to balance the budget), and that opportunity was missed. I completed the town budget questionnaire and was struck by its vague questions. If asked, rather than pay more to operate a new library, I'd have voted to put the money towards public works, public safety, or youth recreation opportunities. As an aside, I realize the town manager doesn't need the public micromanaging the budget - that's the job of the town council :)  I like, support and use the library. I will enjoy its new facilities. I hope town taxes do not increase, but I believe they will.

It's not as if the Library was selected by a bunch of strangers, or as if these concerns were not raised at the time that it was proposed and sited. If an advisory board or community group rasies similar concerns today, just as we did on the Transportation Board 20 years ago, will they be heard now?

Ruby,You can't convince me that if we were starting from scratch today that the discussion of where to site a library would be the same as 20 years ago.  All you have to do is look at some of the newer housing developments being proposed: a lot fewer .5-1 acre lots, a lot fewer cul-de-sac suburbs, and a lot more multi-story living units.  You can argue that the decrease in land drives that but it is also an increase in folks who don't want to spend their free time mowing lawns, driving in their cars, and not knowing their neighbors.Just because the Council didn't decide to move the Library into the Dillards space doesn't mean they rejected the concept of an urban-like space.  The Dillards space had too many unanswered, potentially deleterious questions associated with it and most of those couldn't be answered in the time-frame available.  It may not be all that you wished it could be but it will still be a damn fine Library!  

With full respect to you George I hear what you are saying. Really. But after about seven years of trying to be a good citizen and help the Town of Chapel Hill make lemonade from lemons I'm feeling very frustrated.

I join boards, volunteer for long hours for Chapel Hill 2020, speak at council meetings, meet with individual council members, write blog posts, write guest newspaper columns, volunteer to help get people elected, form non-profits, fund raise, etc. etc. Yet I still feel ineffective and ignored by the Town. Especially when it comes to the crap some Town staff do as it relates to Technology and bridging the digital divide. So forgive me if I act as a naysayer. Once things are done that I don't agree with I'm not going to pull some political line. I'm going to continue to rabble and judge. It's our democratic right!

Why do you give a damn what we think anyway? The money is spent and the suburban library stands contributing to global climate change. The greatest threat to the planet of all time! There are other things to head off at the pass. This genie is out of the bottle.

Side note: One big answer to the problem of carbon producing suburban libraries is the Internet and file sharing. Ebook readers and free epub files will disrupt the physical library out of its current existence soon enough. I love paper books very much. But if you want to spend a ton of tax money in face of this huge global force of digital democratization then good luck to ya.

I get the feeling there's a generational divide brewing about how we interact with government.  Reading Citizenville by Gavin Newsome has solidified some of those ideas for me.  Now how we solve it is another interesting question.

Brian, I hear and understand your frustration.  Unfortunately I'm not in a position to do anything about it.  I have always respected and sought out your opinions and will continue to do so.  I thank you for all the times you have been willing to offer them.Regarding the "generational divide", as head of the Library Foundation and a Library supporter I and my colleagues try to help the Library in any way we can.  While we do not make Library or Town policy we do seek to help the Library acquire the new digital technologies that you suggest will make the libraries of today obsolete tomorrow.  The Foundation funded the purchase of the e-readers that the Library now lends out.  The Foundation purchased for the newly-expanded Library 24 new laptops on mobile computer tables so that groups meeting in the Library can have group-wise computer access during their meetings.  The Foundation currently funds the new program so that anyone with a Library card can access real-time, online help, from any computer whether in the Library, at home, or wherever,  for not only school subjects but for help in job searching, resume building, etc..  And the Foundation funded the new digital media lab in the newly-expanded Library so that folks of any age can go in and make their own movies, recordings, etc.. Finally, not all of the new media acquisitions that the Foundation purchases for the Library are books. We also help to purchase CDs, DVDs and the licenses to e-materials.  As I'm sure you know,purchase of an e-book by the Library only entitles it to a limited number of downloads (something like 20-25) and only to one person at a time.  So purchasing popular e-books for a Library is a major issue because you have to purchase multiple copies to meet that initial demand.We may not be of your generation Brian but we are still trying to listen and learn and help out when we can.  So if you're in the mood to share some new ideas sometime we'll be there to listen.  Thanks for all you do for the community.

Thanks George. I always have felt you've asked and listened to what I have to say. :) Previous tirade *not* directed at you.

While I concur with Geoff, and others, about the drawbacks of the new/old library's location, the library is hardly the only public service that is difficult to get to via public transit (see Homestead Acquatic Center, for example), and likely serves the mostly suburbuan population of Chapel Hill and Orange County well. Let's just hope Carrboro is able to locate their library in a more urban environment. As for making lemonade out of lemons, I think it would be helpful to fix the Franklin/Estes intersection, perhaps by using a traffic circle instead of a four-way stop, and finding something to do with the biscuit traffic (cars backed up into the road on a fast four-lane highway), which strikes me as being incredible dangerous. One could also consider ways to set up a spur trail from the Bolin Creek Trail, either through signage, a bike crossing, and bike lanes, or perhaps a trail that could connect Bolin Creek and the library more directly. Since the library has so much parking, they could even do bike rentals (perhaps using the bike share model) that would allow people to go to the nearby parks, restaurants, and coffeeshops after or before their trip to the library. 

I see on Facebook that the new old library is now open. They have posted a slideshow of the new building at new "reading room" (below) seems especially excessive. Looks like a church for worshipping dead trees.  

. . .and it was packed, lots of walkers and bikers too, which is a good sign that I hope continues.  Lots of people were there apparently just to check it out and look around.They're still getting the kinks worked out as the wifi wasn't up yet, but I'm sure that'll be solved soon enough. The huge reading room did seem pretty ostentatious as Ruby sensed in the photo.  I couldn't help but think it would have been just as impressive with a ceiling about 20 feet lower (in addition to saving on heating costs).  Also, the fact that most of the hundreds of book shelves are less than half full -- I imagine they're just waiting on more books? -- contributed to the overall feeling I had that the place simply did not need to be as big as they made it.  There was also a ton of empty office space downstairs, which I assume will be filled at some point.  I have faith that my feeling of needless expansion will be eventually proven wrong; the alternative would be depressing.Another minor complaint was that there was not a great amount of quiet study space, although I may not have looked in the right spots.  Overall though it was very attractive and tastefully done, with simpler decor than I expected.  May it serve our community well!

I was there at 11 AM on Saturday with two disappointed kids. Weekend hours are only 1-5 sat and sun. I hope this changes.


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