Back when Tommy Frankovich was the mayor of League City, there was a plan to build a new library within five years, he said.
But now, more than 16 years since Frankovich left office, those plans haven’t advanced.
The city with almost 105,000 residents has just one library, next to city hall, on West Walker Street on the city’s east side.
Talks about building a new library, spurred in large part by the rapid growth in Galveston County’s largest city, have resumed in recent months.
The city’s population in January was just shy of 105,000, up from about 102,634 at the same time in 2017, officials said. But, only about 52 percent of League City is developed and projections show the population could rise above 200,000, officials said.
Residents spoke out at a recent council meeting and suggested building a branch library on the west side, where officials anticipate the most growth in coming years.
And city officials have confirmed they are looking at different possibilities for the library’s future.
FUTURE OF LIBRARIES
While a library’s offerings over the years have changed to include Kindle books, movies and other electronic media, experts agreed that it’s wrong to assume libraries’ missions have changed substantively during their existence.
“The common argument is that libraries are really a public good,” said Emily Knox, an associate professor of school information sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “A lot of people don’t have access to Kindles, computers and a quiet place to study. A local public library provides that for them. It’s one of the few places that still exist within a community to offer that to people.”
Libraries began first as an effort to preserve texts in ancient times, but public libraries spread rapidly in America with the arrival of immigrants. Tycoon Andrew Carnegie funded the building of about 1,700 libraries in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
While that mission — being an information provider to a community — remains the same as it did when libraries began centuries ago, what that looks like in each community differs, Knox said.
“Libraries are continually addressing whatever information needs people have in communities,” Knox said. “Maybe it’s space — not just for books — but community meeting space. They’re also pushing the envelope with electronic resources and magazines.”
The biggest way libraries have changed is the way their managers respond to different information needs, Knox said.
“Part of what they’re doing is encouraging research design,” Knox said. “Librarians have been thinking in terms of data for a long time. Computers were first used in a lot of libraries.”
Librarians conduct assessments to see what communities need, Knox said.
LEAGUE CITY FIT
But what does League City need?
“We found out in a study that, yes people do have online books for their tablets, but people still want books,” Frankovich said. “Children like books in their hands.”
But librarians also are focusing on programming and classes for children and other residents, offering something almost every day of the week, said Sarah Greer Osborne, spokeswoman for the city.
For instance, the library offers an event that allows children to read to dogs, Frankovich said.
“We’re encouraging literacy,” Frankovich said. “We’re helping some people adapt to a culture they’re coming into and helping them learn how to adapt to be successful.”
The League City library also offers job training and tips for people seeking jobs, officials said.
City officials confirmed they are considering different options for library building in the future, but said it was still too early to know many specifics.
“The big thing is that we need to do a needs assessment,” City Manager John Baumgartner said. “While that could run concurrently, we have to pick a price if we want to include a library in a bond election.”
League City staff members have presented a list of $230 million in projects to include in a possible May bond election.
Staff allocated $23 million of that for a library on the growing west side of town.
And there are many other needs a bond election would have to address, officials said.
The total cost of drainage improvements for six of the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods during Hurricane Harvey, for instance, could be anywhere from $60 million to $80 million, officials said.
“But we have good community support for expanding the library services,” Baumgartner said. “The facility over here is small compared to the number of users. We get a good return on investment for a limited use of space. It’s multi-use, often with one event on top of each other.”
City officials are vetting possibilities and plan on releasing a needs assessment in coming months, Baumgartner said.