When the University of Connecticut returned to downtown Hartford in 2017, after 47 years in West Hartford, the University’s extensive West Hartford undergraduate and graduate school library materials and operations had to follow. In an innovative and highly successful collaborative effort with the City of Hartford, which owns the Hartford Public Library in downtown Hartford and the independent Hartford Public Library association (HPL) which manages and operates it, the university relocated its West Hartford academic library resources to the Hartford Public Library one block from the restored 1920’s Hartford Times Building whose façade graces the University’s new downtown facility.
Before moving in, the university invested substantial funds in renovating some areas of the building that it would share with the general public and other areas the UConn faculty and students would occupy. This unique solution to budgetary constraints facing all three parties has benefited UConn, its student body, the City of Hartford, its public school students, and the residents of downtown Hartford.
An overview of how and why this partnership came about may provide insight for other institutions and municipalities interested in creating a shared library.
At a time when the City of Hartford and HPL were simply unable to do so, UConn invested substantial state funds in the main branch of the HPL in order to make critically needed repairs and improvements. The burden to taxpayers was far less than if UConn were required to construct its own library in downtown Hartford. In addition to these improvements, the HPL now has access to printed and on-line academic resources it would otherwise not be able to afford. Public school students can now meet with college tutors in the HPL as well.
To accomplish this three-way partnership, the parties negotiated a construction agreement setting forth how the university would go about constructing renovations and alterations in a city-owned building operated by an independent library association while minimally disturbing the public’s use of the library. Before commencing construction, UConn was required to temporarily relocate certain HPL resources located in construction areas and to permanently relocate, elsewhere in the building, other HPL resources originally situated in future UConn space. All contractors and subcontractors involved in construction were required to adhere to certain non-discrimination and affirmative action provisions. In addition, the university required the general contractor to use reasonable efforts to have at least 25 percent of work performed by small business enterprises, and at least 6.25 percent of work performed by minority-owned businesses and/or women-owned businesses.
When construction was complete, the parties’ respective primary and shared use of various parts of the library building and printed and online library resources became governed by the terms of a three-party operating agreement. I represented UConn in negotiating and structuring the operative legal documents.
The operating agreement provides the university a license to use, control and supervise approximately 11,700 square feet of space in the building. In addition, HPL granted UConn a license permitting it to share, with the general public, the use of approximately 4,150 square feet of space in the building, for use as classrooms, study rooms and a computer lab. HPL and UConn each share circulation space and other space required to access and use the university’s space and the shared space, including lobbies, lavatories, entrances, corridors and telecom and server rooms. The operating agreement has an initial term of 15 years with five successive five-year renewal options, thus providing UConn with ample time to amortize its investments in a building owned by the city.
Needless to say, there were challenges. In the construction agreement, the parties specified procedures for approval of architects, contractors and plans and specifications. In the operating agreement, the parties agreed upon procedures for coordinating electronic library materials and data bases and policies for lending and reserving materials. To the extent feasible, UConn and HPL integrated and share certain technologies such as computer servers, A/V systems and software. The parties also agreed on of operation, including UConn’s after-hours use during exam weeks, procedures for enforcing codes of conduct, and the parties’ respective maintenance and repair obligations. To the extent possible, HPL and UConn integrated security systems and personnel.
While perhaps unique in the Connecticut, joint use libraries are becoming more common elsewhere in the United States. To name a few:
- The City of San Jose and San Jose State University share the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library
- The Lone Star College, in Cypress, Texas, shares a public library with Harris County
- Fort Bend County, in Richmond, Texas shares a library with the University of Houston-Sugar Land
- The City of Virginia Beach and Tidewater Community College share a library
At a time when many municipalities, public libraries, and institutions of higher education across Connecticut are experiencing budgetary constraints, similar synergistic and cost-saving arrangements can benefit college students, public school students and taxpayers.
Geoffrey Fay is a member of the law firm Pullman & Comley.