The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library – an Innovative Collaboration Based on Systems Thinking

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in San José is a co-managed,
integrated academic and municipal library that has been in operation since August 2003. It serves as the library for San José State University and as the main library and system headquarters for San José Public Library in San Jose, CA (pop. 945,000).

The result of collaboration between the city of San José and San José State University, the King Library is located on the campus perimeter in the city’s downtown area, forming a physical link between the two communities ensuring that both residents and students can access its resources. By deliberate design, youth entering the library from the public entrance can see the university through the campus entrance directly across the floor, thus reinforcing the message that "a college education is only one step beyond your public library."

ARTICLE | Mar 29, 2006

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in San José is a co-managed,
integrated academic and municipal library that has been in operation since August 2003. It serves as the library for San José State University and as the main library and system headquarters for San José Public Library in San Jose, CA (pop. 945,000).

The result of collaboration between the city of San José and San José State University, the King Library is located on the campus perimeter in the city’s downtown area, forming a physical link between the two communities ensuring that both residents and students can access its resources. By deliberate design, youth entering the library from the public entrance can see the university through the campus entrance directly across the floor, thus reinforcing the message that "a college education is only one step beyond your public library."

"A detailed operating agreement outlines the responsibilities of the city and the university, defining everything from maintenance obligations to dispute resolution," said Jane Light, Library Director for the city. "Many direct and support services are provided by staff of both libraries working side by side in teams and units."

According to Light, the concept of a joint library was not without controversy on the campus, within the community and among the people working in the two libraries. As the first of its kind in the U.S. there were no precedents or "best practices" to follow as a model.

Multiple public agencies were involved including the city of San José, the San José Redevelopment Agency, San José State University and the California State University System.

From the outset, the City Library Director and the Dean of the University Library assumed that it would be possible, but not easy, to operate a joint use library. Early on, they recognized that the building design and library operations should integrate library services, making all collections and most services readily available to all library users.

Both the University and the city had outgrown their libraries and a combined library made considerable sense, enabling expansion where it was needed while achieving greater efficiency. Most SJSU students live in the region and stay in the San Francisco Bay Area after they leave the university. Most live off campus and many have jobs in the community.

The University could obtain state funding for a joint use library that was partly paid for by a partner much more quickly than for a stand-alone library. By using redevelopment resources to fund its share, the City was able to gain community support for a bond measure to upgrade the aging and outdated branch library system. Together, the partners could provide seamless access to a much richer collection and better technology-based services.

Costs for maintenance and utilities are shared based on an allocation of space to each partner. The city’s share is about 35 percent of the total, so it pays to maintain about 170,000 square feet. If the city had built a stand-alone library with adequate seating, computers, group study rooms, collection growth space, and staff work areas, its new library would have been at least 225,000 square feet. Clearly, the partners constructed their joint use library for less than the cost of two separate libraries and they continue to reap the benefits of lower maintenance and utility costs.

Six years had elapsed since the announcement in 1997 of the joint-use library. During that time the staffs of the two libraries were operating their separate busy, ever-changing libraries while at the same time reviewing architectural plans and planning for the operation of the new joint use facility.

Light said, "It was often difficult to balance the daily operational demands with the necessity to stick to the complex project management plan."

Multiple teams of staff from both libraries were established to review building specifications for functional design and to create operational plans for the transition and management of the joint library. By 2000, five teams had identified 82 specific projects with 3,500 tasks that needed to be accomplished by numerous sub-teams. Consultants were hired to assist with technology planning and customer satisfaction benchmarking. A "Core Team" consisting of the SJSU Library Dean, the San Jose Library Director, their top aides in charge of operations, and the project managers, was responsible for overall management and coordination of the operational planning. A Senior Leadership Team (City Manager, Redevelopment Director, University Provost and Vice-President for Administration) met quarterly to review progress and resources.

A planning and development office was opened to support the many teams and sub-teams involved in the project. The two libraries had very different organizational cultures and determining how to merge and mesh their operations was difficult.

Major challenges included what library automation or telephone system to purchase and how staff working in merged units would be evaluated, but equally difficult were decisions on smaller, everyday operational issues such as how to share coverage of reference desks.

Effective tools included training in group processes and project management, quarterly newsletters to all staff, project management software, e-mail updates, bi-monthly brown bag sessions, shadowing partner staff, and milestone celebrations.

According to Light, a sustained creative process led to a cultural shift in the organizations, representing an optimism that guided them and resulted in alignment toward the shared goal of achieving this seemingly impossible feat – one decision at a time. Ultimately, innovation and creativity were nurtured within a structured process/framework, empowering staff to design all aspects of the future library with leadership direction and a strong customer focus.

The library co-managers (City Library Director and University Dean) often refer to the library as a "marriage, not a merger." The relationships between the co-managers and other staff members, and between the King Library and the two parent institutions, require constant attention, communication, and flexibility.

A quote in the August 2005 Governing article summarized yet another result of the success of the King Library. "Furthermore, while ‘the initial aim was to solve a library problem for both institutions,’ says San Jose City Manager Del Borgsdorf, ‘it’s grown into something much bigger. This partnership has completely changed the chemistry between the city and the university."’ Examples include coordination of planning for wireless access on both the campus and the new City Hall that is located only a block from the campus, discussions of collaborative economic development activities and about the possibility of jointly developing athletic fields and facilities in the future.

About the Library

1.5 million items are available to any user. Four hundred public access computer workstations and nearly 600 laptop ports offer access to the online catalog and/or the Internet at various points in the eight story, 475,000 square foot building.

A full-service online branch—www.SJLibrary.org— allows 24/7 access to a wide range of library services, including databases and the online catalog. Using the online catalog, both public and academic users can search, request and borrow seamlessly from the combined collections at the King Library and at the sixteen city library branches.

University and community-sponsored adult programming enables those who are interested to take part in discussions with well-known authors, scholars and policy makers. Unique special collections such as the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, and the inspired collection of public art—Recolecciones—offer an enriched atmosphere that draws visitors from around the world.

The King Library has received many awards, including the 2005 National League of Cities James C. Howland Gold Prize for Municipal Enrichment – Among Cities with Populations in Excess of 500,000, the 2004 League of California Cities Helen Putnam Award and the 2004 Thomson Gale/Library Journal Library of the Year Award. Use of the library has exceeded projections by 25 percent and it has become a source of community and campus pride.

For more information, contact Jane Light, Library Director, City of San Jose at 408.808.2150 or email jane.light@sjlibrary.org. Or visit www.sjlibrary.org.  

You may also be interested in

Feedback