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Burb’s Eye View: A library’s role in the 21st century

When touring Burbank’s central library a few months ago, I was shown many areas that “used to” be something.

“Over here used to be where we’d keep the archives for the Warner Bros. collection.” “This used to be where we’d do such-and-such.”

These areas were mostly upstairs; downstairs there was more action, and my tour guide, Library Services Director Sharon Cohen brought me to the newer areas for Internet access and multimedia lending. Almost every computer was in use. Occasionally, I was told, a new coffee cart sets up shop.

Fast forward a few months and I was sitting in City Manager Mike Flad’s office, chatting about everything from management styles to giant mile-high wind tunnels that could theoretically produce energy. Somewhere in our winding conversation we hit upon the library, and its role in the Burbank community in 2011.


I was reminded of these conversations again last week when I took the library’s community assessment survey, which can be accessed at or It got me thinking, what is the role of a library these days?

More importantly, what is the library’s role for Burbank? And what kinds of services can a public library be expected to provide?

The survey is just four screens; the first two ask for demographic data so the city and its library consultant, Linda Demmers (who if you look her up is really the library consultant in California), can compare our stats with other cities. This is useful if you’re trying to find a comparable city that went through a library renovation and want to know costs, project scope, etc.

It’s the next two screens that get really interesting.


First, you’re asked to rate the “importance of the following library services for the Burbank Central Library.” One of the items is “books,” which is funny considering 15 years ago you probably wouldn’t have needed to ask this.

People think “library,” and they think “books,” right? Except I think of free WiFi, local history materials, used books for sale, and events: local author signings, free movies, educational programs. For many of us, this is what the notion of a library has come to mean in the 21st century.

The next page asks, “Which of the following would increase your satisfaction with the Burbank Central Library?” Ah — now we get to the real question.

What would make it more attractive for people to use the library? I see décor is on the list. A used book store would be interesting — and there’s a selection for e-books here as well (I’m holding out until they don’t make paper anymore before I buy a Kindle).

Bookstore, coffee shop, Amazon-lite, almost-Netflix. These are roles employed by today’s libraries to compete with the private industries that already provide these services. Yet private companies do not provide adult literacy services, or family reading programs, or catalogue and maintain a collection of local history from books, newspapers, and official records. At least, not like the Burbank Central Library.

Krista Dietrich, a senior administrative analyst at the library, said this survey is currently the only way for the public to comment on the renovation process. City officials, Demmers and architects will use this feedback to design proposals that will likely come out early this fall. The public then gets to weigh in on those, and eventually the plans will go before City Council.

“As the project moves forward, we’ll have a lot to share,” Dietrich said. “At this point, we’re just information gathering.”

The survey will be available until the end of August. It was started in early July, and in the first few weeks more than 400 responses were submitted. In a city of 103,000, we can do much better — so take a few minutes and tell city planners what the library should become.


It’s more productive than talking about what used to be.

BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he’s not taking online surveys, he can be reached at and on Twitter @818NewGuy.