Newport may close Balboa branch, open 'electronic' library

Instead, part of planned community center would be equipped with computer center, on-demand book orders.

March 24, 2011|By Mike Reicher,

NEWPORT BEACH — The Newport Beach Public Library is considering closing one of its four branches and outfitting a planned community center with everything that it offered — except the books.

At a meeting about the Balboa Peninsula's Marina Park development Wednesday, city officials unveiled plans to close the Balboa Branch — which houses 35,000 items, including books, DVD and other materials — and to dedicate a portion of the Marina Park Community Center to an "electronic library."

By eliminating books and librarians at the building, they hope to adapt to modern times and save money while providing residents services they'll actually use. In the process, they would replace the library's most iconic features with Internet connections.


"That caused me the most angst," said City Manager Dave Kiff. "People identify [book] stacks with the library."

But officials analyzed how its patrons use the branches and found that most come for a quiet place to study, to plug their laptops into work spaces and to use the Internet-connected computers. Few of them actually remove books from the shelves.

That's especially the case at the Balboa branch, said Cynthia Cowell, library services director.

"They come specifically to use the computers," she said. "We have a lot of electronic use of the library, and it's getting bigger all the time."

The new facility would have a 2,200-square-foot "Internet library" room with a central fireplace and a kiosk where patrons could order books to borrow using an online system. Some seats and tables would look out onto the bay.

"What we hope to accomplish," Cowell said, "is to create a place where people want to come and be."

If residents still want to get their book on the Peninsula, they could order it online from the other branches and pick it up at Marina Park. Instead of holding books behind a desk, the library would drop them off in individual lockers.

"A lot of people still want to touch a book, hold a book, smell it," Cowell said. "The sensory experience is still very important to many of us."

The new process would be similar to Netflix. Patrons could place orders from anywhere with an Internet connection: home, work, Marina Park, etc. The kiosk would also be equipped with video-calling software, similar to Skype. Patrons could speak face-to-(projected) face with a reference librarian who could help answer research questions and point them toward the right online resources.

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