The Bloomington library board and city council have a big decision to make, and the answer won't be found in a book.

The library, 205 E. Olive St. near downtown, is too small for the number of people who use it. But options to sell, build or move are expensive and sure to get blow back from residents who are more concerned about streets and sewers.

The quandry comes as Normal also ponders moving its library to "Uptown South," a new development planned for south of Uptown Station that would feature a library and retail space.

Do the Twin Cities really need twin libraries, or could both take the opportunity to discuss the possibility of sharing a main branch, satellite branches and increased bookmobile use?

For now, the current Bloomington library board favors expanding the current library or building a new facility on city-owned land south of it, rather than building elsewhere.

The board plans to meet with the City Council in a non-voting work session at 5 p.m. June 19 in the Osborn Room at the Bloomington Police Department.

We suggest a shared main branch be added as a discussion item, and that Normal consider it, too.

There's no question that libraries are needed. They will always be needed. They provide books, magazines, arts and video materials and programs unavailable elsewhere except by purchase. At the library, you can sign up for a card that entitles you to check out materials, or rent items for a nominal fee, or ask questions of staff members who are uniquely trained in research.

Libraries get used. A week ago, a summer reading event at Bloomington Public Library drew more than 700 people.

Rather, expansion of a current building or construction of a new one is a question of space, parking, redundancy of materials, access and spending. That's why a shared library — planned with those points in mind — might be a better approach.

Based on a 2015 study, Bloomington could spend anywhere from $21 million to $31 million, depending on whether the current building is used or another is built. A preliminary study by Normal showed the potential cost of its new library on the low end of that range. Neither city's estimates were for buildings that could serve both communities.

The immediate question is in Bloomington and what will be decided, or whether the council and library board members decide to look at other options.

Libraries, like schools, police and fire departments and retail are part of what make a community. Losing one of those stalwarts can subtly signal a community's slowed growth or, worse, the eventual shriveling of the town altogether.

But in areas such as the Twin Cities, shared strength could bulk up both communities through more thoughtful, less redundant spending of resources.


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