The existing Truckee library, a modest brown building set in the middle of town, opened its doors in 1976 when the town’s population was roughly 2,000. Today, Truckee boasts more than 20,000 people if you include Martis Valley, yet the library remains that same 4,500-square-foot space built nearly 45 years ago.
Friends of Truckee Library (FOL, or the Friends), a nonprofit founded in 1971, is the main force working to get Truckee a new 20,000-square-foot, $25 million library. And while the idea of a new library has been in the works for a while, the project is gaining serious momentum. It feels like the stars (or should we say communities) are aligning to build a space that will function well beyond the stereotypical, old-school home to the Dewey Decimal System.
“It’s an equitable community connection place that’s beyond the books. And the key to that is offering the types of programs and services that really bring the community in,” Louise Zabriskie, FOL President, said. “And space. We just don’t have the space at the current library.”
Most recently, the Friends released renderings and a “flythrough” video of what the space could look like. And people are on board.
“I’m so excited to see the flythrough. Every time I see it, I get chills,” Courtney Henderson, vice mayor for the Town of Truckee, said at a June 22 town council meeting. The incoming council identified the library as a key mission during a board retreat in January.
But, Why a Library?
The proposed new library is much more than just a place to check out books. It would be a full-on community center, part of a trend for the concept of libraries functioning more like community centers that is cropping up across the nation.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for example, is a mountain town similar to Truckee, with a population just under 14,000. Their town has a new 35,000-square-foot library that gets more than 1,000 daily visitors. Half Moon Bay, California, has a new library that, once the doors opened, saw a 78% increase in program attendance during the first year. Both projects are inspiration and motivation for the new Truckee library project.
The fact that it’s taken some time to get rolling on the proposed Truckee library doesn’t mean that residents don’t want a new library; it’s just that most folks don’t know the full scale of what they are missing out on. That all seems to change after they see a presentation about what could be. It’s a presentation FOL has done more than 40 times to community organizations. “We get this ah-ha moment,” said Kathleen Eagan, FOL board member and former Town of Truckee mayor. “People say ‘Gee, I had no idea what a library could be, and that we are so behind the times.’”
Not to mention the need for a space of this caliber in the community.
“There’s no place in our community where — aside from private homes or bars, coffee shops, and restaurants — you can meet a friend and just talk or have a meeting,” Zabriskie said. “And, it’s for free.”
A 21st-century library remains a place to check out books, but is also a place for all members of the community to come together to use computers with high-speed internet, check out equipment that they might not be able to afford or want to buy, rent community rooms for seed exchanges or aerobics classes, or host and attend presentations with local and national speakers. The possibilities are somewhat limitless.
“It’s not that the current library doesn’t do programming,” Eagan said. “They do programming. But there’s not enough space for the people to embrace the programming.”
The library also aims to provide a neutral gathering space for all ages — from children to seniors. One Truckee teacher said they would assign more group projects if they knew there was a place for students to meet up and work. And, with its proposed location at the Truckee Regional Park, so close to the Sierra Senior Services, the library will provide an opportunity for seniors to socialize with more people than those in their immediate circles.
Moreover, it’s a place where all members of the community, especially those in underrepresented groups, will feel welcome. The importance of this equity is highlighted in A Room for Equality, a film that showcases the impacts of libraries on 11 Latino students in Truckee. The five-minute video was produced by La Fuerza, a student-run club at Truckee High School.
To appreciate milestones like site plans and flythroughs, it is essential to understand the Truckee library’s long and complicated history.
It will come as no surprise to hear that, historically (both nationally and locally), library funding and operations have been put on the back burner. Enter the importance of groups like the Friends, which that supports the library and its programs in general, but its tour de force has been dedicated to making this new library happen.
“This project wouldn’t be happening if the Friends weren’t pushing it,” Eagan said.
In 2012, California stopped funding libraries across the state (which came as no surprise as state monies for libraries had been dwindling for decades). Thus, the operations of the Truckee Library have been increasingly the duty of Nevada County. In 1998, Nevada County voters passed a 1/8 cent sales tax to fund libraries across the county. The tax increased to 1/4 cent in 2016 in a measure approved by 80% of Truckee voters that ensured funding for another 15 years. The 1/4 cent sales tax is still funding the Truckee library operations today, with a county librarian in charge of all six Nevada County libraries.
Tight budget notwithstanding, the Friends have known for a while that Truckee needed a new library. The group kept the idea moving forward for years by raising funds and continually advocating before the town and county. Finally, in 2014 and 2015, they hired three consulting groups to start moving the vision forward. They hired former librarian and library consultant Kathryn Page to identify the proposed library size, Tahoe-based JK Architecture Engineering to assess how much land a project of this magnitude would require, and Municipal Resource Group to investigate organizational structures that would ensure the library runs smoothly.
It was established, at this stage, that Truckee needed a 20,000-square-foot library on at least 2 acres of land. The group, along with the help of multiple community members and businesses, looked at every available space in town. After conducting a site plan analysis, they landed on the Truckee Regional Park.
In March 2020, FOL entered into an agreement with the Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District to build the library on 2 acres of land near the entrance to the Truckee Regional Park. And in early June, the renderings and flythrough were released.
It Takes a Village
If all goes according to plan, the Friends hope to break ground on a new library sometime in 2025. But there is a lot to do before they start digging. The nonprofit is currently running the LibraryUP Luminary campaign to raise funds earmarked for start-up development costs. The campaign has brought roughly 140 participants and asks $1,000 for individuals and $2,500 for businesses.
“It’s a great way of letting the community know that people are serious about this,” Eagan said. Donations outside the Luminary campaign are also accepted.
On top of facilitating the Luminary campaign, FOL is deep in the trenches of establishing a governing structure. The structure will likely be a joint power of authority between The Town of Truckee, Nevada County, and FOL. Libraries across the state employ this structure.
“Here are all these entities in Truckee working together to make it happen, and I think that’s what makes it so personal for the community,” Zabriskie said. To which Eagan added, “It’s what Truckee does so well.”
For more information and to support the Truckee library project visit truckeefol.org/new-library.