Multnomah County Library

Multnomah County Library is one of the busiest and most highly regarded libraries in the country. The library has a rich 150-year history of service, marked by regular capital improvements to address the needs of a changing community and evolving models of library service. Today MCL operates the landmark Central Library in downtown Portland as well as a network of 18 small neighborhood libraries in service of a county population of nearly 800,000. 

MCL is proactive about taking care of its facilities, and carries no deferred maintenance backlog. The issue for MCL is simply that it lacks space. Overall, MCL’s facilities represent a service level of just over 0.3 square feet per capita – a fraction of what peer libraries in Oregon and in other urban metropolitan communities offer. For comparison, all of the space in all of MCL’s libraries countywide could fit in the Seattle Central Library with room to spare. 

Library service in Multnomah County is highly constrained by this severe lack of space. There are also great inequities in how library facilities and space are distributed in the county, particularly in communities east of I-205. These deficits and inequities will only increase as the population continues to grow; the State of Oregon projects that Multnomah County will grow by another 15% or so by 2035. Expanded library facilities are needed to ensure equitable access to vital services now and into the future. 

Building upon its tradition of proactive leadership and planning, in 2016, the library embarked on a facilities capital planning process to identify the directions and scope of facility needs for the next two decades. Through a year-long process, thousands of residents, community leaders, stakeholders, and library staff participated in the visioning and shaping of this Framework for Future Library Spaces and recommendations.