Gulf Gate Library survey produces common themes that can be used in designing a new Venice Public Library

More meeting room space of various sizes and more computers among suggestions from patrons

Gulf Gate Library is on Curtiss Avenue in Sarasota. Photo from the Friends of Gulf Gate Library website
Gulf Gate Library is on Curtiss Avenue in Sarasota. Photo from the Friends of Gulf Gate Library website

Gulf Gate Library patrons especially like their facility’s convenient location and natural light, its study and meeting room space, its programs and special events, and the beauty of the building itself. They also say the top shelves are too high and the bottom shelves are too low; the aisles between shelves are too narrow; the acoustics could be better; and a single-story structure would have been preferable.

Those facts are among the information Sarasota County Library System staff has gleaned from a survey of Gulf Gate Library users in an effort to facilitate the construction of a new public library on the island of Venice.

County staff already had planned on scheduling multiple meetings to gain public comments and ideas for the design of the facility when County Commissioner Christine Robinson proposed in March that a survey of Gulf Gate Library patrons would be useful, too. Gulf Gate — which opened in January 2015 — is the latest library the county has built, Robinson pointed out.

Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo
Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo

“Overall, it looks like people are pretty happy with the library,” Robinson told The Sarasota News Leader after a review of the Gulf Gate survey findings, reported by staff in a June 28 memo. “It’s interesting to read [the results] and compare them with what I heard at the public meetings [regarding the new Venice facility],” she added.

The County Commission ordered Venice Public Library closed at the end of January because of fears about the potential effects of persistent mold in the building on patrons, staff and volunteers. The county has signed a lease with the City of Venice to use the Hamilton Building — which is being renovated at county expense — as a temporary location until a new facility can be completed on the Venice Cultural Campus. Construction inside the Hamilton Building is expected to be finished in September, Kalajian told the County Commission on June 7.

In the meantime, library services are being offered in a room at the Venice Community Center.

The survey

Sarabeth Kalajian, director of libraries and historical resources for the county, wrote in the June 28 memo that the survey distributed to Gulf Gate Library patrons asked “what services they use, what features they like, what aspects of the new library could be improved, and what advice they wish to share with those planning and designing the new Venice Public Library.”

Members of the public could access paper or electronic copies of the survey, Kalajian reported. Her staff also met with representatives of the Friends of Gulf Gate Library, volunteers, the Teen Advisory Board and members of the nearby homeowners association to gain comments, she noted. Additionally, library staff conducted one-on-one interviews with patrons as they entered and left Gulf Gate Library, she wrote in the memo.

Many of the responses, she continued, “were similar to, and reinforced, the information gathered at the six community planning workshops” for the new Venice facility. Among the common themes among answers to “What library services are most important to you?” were the following, she pointed out: books and other items to borrow; access to and help with technology; good customer service; programs and events; use of meeting spaces; quiet space to read; and volunteer opportunities.

Gulf Gate Library is very popular among patrons, county library staff says. Image courtesy Sarasota County
Gulf Gate Library is very popular among patrons, county library staff says. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Among the actual comments about the most important facets of the library were “Email notification for holds,” “Lots of books,” “Bookstore” (operated by the Friends of Gulf Gate Library), and “Access to books from any of the branches.”

Another question was “If you could tell people planning and building a new library one thing to keep in mind — what would that be?” The survey showed the following common themes among the answers: anticipate needs for future expansion; have more books; devote space to, and plan programs for, children; include meeting rooms of various sizes; provide adequate parking; a single-story building is preferable; include more computers for public access; install automatic doors; offer access to the latest technology; ensure good acoustics; put in a café; use natural light; feature spaces for people to use in making things; consider maintenance costs; have a teen-friendly staff; and consider the return on “green” design investment.”

Among the actual recommendations for the new library were the following:

  • “Don’t have lost, unusable space.”
  • “Skip the stone [on the façade]. It encourages climbing. It is hard to maintain.”
  • “Wi-Fi that will accommodate all the gaming needs for teens.”
  • “Maker spaces with 3-D printer and laser cutter.”
  • “Keep in mind how noise travels.”
  • “I’d say, ‘Thank you!’ Our family loves the library and uses it all the time. Please build a beautiful place that inspires a love of reading.”

“It’s good information to have,” Robinson told the News Leader.

Kalajian pointed out that all of the responses staff had compiled would be provided to the architectural firm that will design the new Venice facility, as well as to the other project team members. The material also will be displayed on the webpage on the county’s website devoted to the new Venice Public Library initiative, and it will be distributed to the more than 400 email addresses on the list county staff has built from all the communications it has received regarding the Venice library situation.