Ten-year plan: improvements to Cincinnati’s libraries

Over the next 10 years, all 40 branches of the Cincinnati library, as well as the main library downtown, will be improved, according to a just-approved master plan.

The improvements will range from major renovations and relocations to modest renovations, with some beginning right away and others planned for years down the road.

Earlier this month, the library board approved the plan, which lays out a framework and direction for using $190 million in funding from a new tax levy that voters approved in 2018.

Over the last year, every branch was evaluated, and recommendations — for both small and large improvements— were created based on funding and each location’s needs. The plan does not recommend any consolidations or closures.

The long-term plan details three types of improvements that will be made to library facilities:

  • Strategic investments: Library officials say these are small but impactful improvements, such as laptop kiosks, maker carts, and study pods.
  • Capital maintenance: These include deferred maintenance and replacement and repair work, such as heating and air conditioning, furniture, roofing, and carpeting.
  • Design: These will be significant improvements, such as major renovations, expansions, or relocations.

Two major renovation projects are scheduled to get under way soon: The Price Hill and the Walnut Hills branches will both be renovated and expanded.

Three other projects are also slated for funding in the near-term: the Main Library is scheduled to have its Vine Street entrance reconfigured; the Elmwood Place branch will receive new carpet, furniture, and paint, and the Reading branch will get upgraded technology, beginning with the installation of a laptop kiosk.

“Our vision was to create a library system that serves our community in the ways that they need and want,” says library director Paula Brehm-Heeger. “Our need is substantial, greater than we thought.”

Although no closings or consolidations are contemplated, library officials are not ruling them out long-term.

“While we may consider consolidations at some later point, our year of careful study revealed that locations sometimes considered for closure or consolidation provide a very high impact for communities in need without consuming significant resources and funding,” Brehm-Heeger says.

San Francisco-based Group 4 Architecture, Research and Planning, Inc completed the master plan.

Three other branches have been identified as needing major renovations, in addition to Price Hill and Walnut Hills: Cheviot, Madisonville, and Norwood.

The plan identified a capital funding need of $300 million to $350 million, with all those needs taking 20 years to address. The planners identified priority projects that could be completed in 10 years at a cost of up to $157 million.

Although the plan is detailed, library officials say it will be flexible. “This 10-year plan should be seen as a framework that is intended to set clear directions yet also be adaptable,” they write in a plan summary. “New opportunities and constraints will likely emerge as this plan is implemented, as the library seeks additional land and partnerships for expansions or relocations, as new input is gathered as projects proceed through planning and design, and as external factors arise.”

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David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.