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A proposal to keep the Salt Lake City Main Library open all day every day has some residents worried the architectural gem designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie could become the nation's ritziest homeless shelter.
The popular library is open to all comers and provides a host of media from books to computers, and magazines to DVDs. Its spectacular views of the Wasatch Mountains combined with its cavernous atrium make it a favorite of residents and visitors.
One thing it does not offer and won't is a place to sleep, according to John Spears, the library's executive director.
A 24-7 schedule would allow services for residents who work hours other than 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Spears said.
"This is a chance to serve a large segment of our community that can't make it during regular hours," he said. "All the regulations that apply to the library during the day are also on at night. We won't allow people to sleep or camp out."
Still, homeless people are not only welcomed, but the library teams with the Volunteers of America to provide a helping hand to those who need it. The library's staff has a proven track record of dealing with all segments of society, Spears told the City Council this week.
Presently library hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
If the proposal is funded, it would be the first city library in the country to be open 24-7, Spears said.
But his proposal for a two-year pilot to test the program has not been met with open arms by some area residents.
Teri Holbrook said she found it "duplicitous" that the program was being described as being aimed at the general public, rather than a refuge for homeless people.
"If it's for homeless services, then let's talk about it as services for homeless," she told the council Tuesday.
Resident John Sayer said that although he supports services for homeless people, the library should not become something like a shelter.
"This will assuredly bring crime to the neighborhood," he said. "There has been nothing done to study the consequences."
Library officials say they are now conducting a feasibility study and needs assessment that would delineate specifics of operating a 24-7 program. The proposal calls for the first and second floors to remain open after regular hours. The atrium and other floors would be closed.
Spears is requesting $300,000 for the pilot through June 30. The library would need to make an additional request for the following fiscal year that begins July 1.
A two-year pilot is necessary, the library director said, because it will take time for residents to adjust to the new hours.
"For something that has never been done, six months is not a good gauge," he said. "It's like opening a new branch. It will take people awhile to embrace it."
The City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the allocation of funds at its Dec. 9 meeting.
But resident Karen Major said such a vote would be too rushed.
"My concern is whether there has been sufficient public input," she told the council. "Who determined the parameters of the feasibility study?"
The council doesn't seem to have enough information to make an informed decision, she said. "I don't know what you are basing the vote on."
But Councilman Luke Garrott, whose District 2 encompasses the library, said he sees the proposal "as a service for the night owls of the community."
Noting the concerns of downtown residents, Garrott said security and police are part of the plan.
"I see it as an amenity," he said. "If it becomes a nuisance, we will shut it down."
The proposal was brought to the City Council by Spears, said Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall. "[Library employees] have heard from our citizens that they are not meeting the needs of the community."
Because other cities have not tried a 24-7 library schedule, there isn't a lot to compare the proposal with, she said.
"Just because no one has tried something," Mendenhall said, "doesn't mean it isn't a good idea."
But Councilwoman Lisa Adams said although expanded hours may be a good idea, she is not convinced there is a demand for a 24-7 schedule.
Further, she said there must be metrics to determine the success of such a pilot program.
"How do you measure if it's not working?" she said. "And are we willing to pull the plug if it isn't?"