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Library running out of room

Library used book sale volunteer Pat Miller takes a break from her sorting duties. The monthly sales are so popular that the library is adding an additional sale on the fourth Thursday of each month beginning June 22.  - Julie Busch photo
Library used book sale volunteer Pat Miller takes a break from her sorting duties. The monthly sales are so popular that the library is adding an additional sale on the fourth Thursday of each month beginning June 22.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

A decade after its last expansion, the popular facility may

already be too small.

They’d have joined their kids, if only there was room.

Instead, parents pressed noses to the glass to see dozens of youngsters sprawled and enthralled for the out-loud reading of a good book.

Overflows were common at recent children’s story times at the Bainbridge Public Library, so much so that staff decided to move the event upstairs to a bigger room.

The problem, they say, is that they’re running out of bigger rooms.

“The staff has to be creative and haul a lot of stuff around to make things work,” said Ann Lovejoy, Library Board president, of the shrinking space at the building. “Who needs a gym when you work at the library?”

The 15 person library board now is gauging community and user needs through surveys and focus groups as they plan a future renovation or expansion.

Lovejoy and branch Manager Cindy Harrison said no specific plans are in the works and there is no firm timetable, but they have been working since January with volunteer consultant Dallas Shaffer, a former library director, to plot their next move.

“This has been spurred by the patrons,” Harrison said. “They come to us with issues about parking or lack of meeting space, and it’s our job to be good listeners. We love to get people’s input – we’re not afraid of criticism.”

The library building was built in 1962 with funds from the first-ever Rotary Auction and has been renovated twice, the last time being in 1997 when it doubled in size.

The Bainbridge Library differs from most public libraries, in that the Kitsap Regional Library System pays for staff and resources, but the building itself is owned by the public and maintained by private donations.

Costs of a renovation are yet to be determined, but would be paid for privately, something Harrison and Lovejoy say would require the ingenuity of the community.

The library has enough land to expand south along Madison Avenue, thanks to a donation that allowed them to purchase an office building just south of the library in 2005. The building provides additional lease revenue and, potentially, room for future expansion.

Shaffer, who has spent the last 10 years working with libraries across the country dealing with similar space crunches, said the Bainbridge Library is well-situated.

“One of the first issues expanding libraries run into is finding a site,” she said. “I was blown away when I found out that they already have the land if they decide to do something.”

Both Shaffer’s parents served on the Bainbridge library board in the 1960s, and her father even carved signs for the children’s library.

“This community is so devoted to reading and the library,” she said. “They’re also familiar with the fundraising process because they’ve been doing it so long.”

Lovejoy echoed Shaffer’s sentiments.

“I can’t think of a library that’s better supported,” she said. “And this community is so inventive when it comes to solving problems like this.”

In fact, the library was chosen by Berkshire Publishing Group, library advocates and publishers of reference titles, as one of the top 80 public libraries in the country based on their importance to the communities they serve. Winners will be featured in a new book later this year.

Reading public

On an island that’s home to nearly 22,000 people, the branch has more than 21,000 members and houses 90,000 items. It sees 340,000 visitors each year and circulates 500,000 items annually.

But the 15,500-square-foot building is getting cramped and as the island continues to grow, Harrison and Lovejoy say the time to look ahead is now.

With seven other Kitsap libraries also looking to expand, there will be plenty of inspiration to draw from.

“We definitely want to connect with other communities and support groups,” Lovejoy said. “There are a lot of resources we can learn from.”

Their needs are many.

Meeting space, in particular, is at a premium; much of the current public meeting space is booked well in advance.

With only 30 terminals, computers are also limited. Harrison said it can be difficult during busy periods for patrons to get a seat, and it’s not unusual for several people to be waiting their turn.

“The library serves so many purposes,” Harrison said. “It’s a meeting place and a safe spot for kids to study. Some people just come in to relax and read the newspaper. For a lot of people this is like a second home.”

Which is why Harrison and Lovejoy say they want that home to be comfortable.

Pat Miller, who volunteers with the Friends of the Library’s monthly used book sale, sorts books in a tight corner of the basement and said she’d love to have a little more elbow room.

The book sales are so popular that the library is adding an extra sale on the fourth Thursday of each month.

For volunteers and staff, the crowding is a mixed blessing; they’re happy people are using the library, but concerned that they don’t have enough space to accommodate them.

“This is a complex process,” Lovejoy said. “That’s why were going to the community for guidance. We want to talk to people who never use the library just as much as we want to talk to those that use it every day.

“The public are the people who keep the doors open and the lights on, so we want to hear from them. This is just the beginning.”

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