Austin's library system is lagging behind the city's growth, and city leaders have given the thumbs-up to a strategic plan for ensuring library access across town and building out more facilities.

To grow its system, the Austin Public Library began working on a new long-range plan last year. That comprehensive outline was adopted by City Council March 23 and will be used to "guide programs, services and organizational development" as well as a long-term facilities plan.

The APL said more than 6,500 Austinites and most of the library system's own staff weighed in on the final blueprint approved this month.

“On behalf of everyone at the Austin Public Library, I am excited that the council has adopted this vision for the future of our community’s libraries,” APL Director Roosevelt Weeks said in a statement. “This plan lays out a path for APL to continue to empower everyone in our community to discover, learn and create for years to come.”

The new long-range plan may be viewed here.

While APL officials say the 21 locations are now in good condition, and "well-distributed and accessible to Austin communities," the new plan states those facilities do not contain enough space to meet their communities' existing and future needs. The APL also found the trend was inequitable, with South Austin libraries having "less than half" of the space needed to provide for their communities.

To address the need for library space, the APL said it should be providing between 0.3 to 0.4 feet of room in its facilities per capita—a measurement meaning branch locations should be at least 30,000 square feet, per APL officials.

Going forward, that mark could be hit through expansions and new branch additions throughout the city. The new plan says more than half of APL's 20 branches should be expanded to hit that square footage benchmark, which in some cases will require a branch relocation.

Additionally, each geographic quadrant of the city is recommended to receive a brand-new library branch farther from Central Austin.

“Five and a half years ago, Austin opened a new world-class Central Library in downtown, and that building remains the crown jewel of the city. However, our neighborhoods deserve world-class library facilities, too. The plan adopted by the City Council today lays out a vision for growing and updating our entire library system to meet the needs of the rapidly changing, dynamic city we serve," Weeks said.

Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis, who represents District 8 in Southwest Austin, said the council-approved plan is important for communities like hers that can serve as neighborhood hubs.

“The public library strategic plan, looking at ways to expand the ability for people to enjoy our local public libraries, is something that is near and dear to our hearts in District 8. A lot of folks know that our Hampton Branch library is the only public-facing meeting room that Southwest Austin has that the city owns, so it’s really important that we treat that library well. It’s already undergone a few repairs in the last couple of years," Ellis said March 23.

Location and available space at Austin libraries proved to be among the most important things to community participants in the long-range planning process.

According to thousands of APL survey responses, 62% of respondents said they hope to use libraries to connect with people with similar interests, while 50% said they would like to use the facilities to rent meeting rooms. And 85% of respondents said they visited most often thanks to libraries located near their homes, workplace or schools.

APL officials said new facilities could be either brand-new construction or remodels of existing buildings. Cost estimates for the potential expansions are not included in the new report.

City Council passed the long-range plan with direction from District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes for the APL to take on additional community engagement to determine how future expansions and additions should be prioritized in different areas of the city.