Library primes for ‘transformation’


The Tacoma Public Library is laying the groundwork to enhance its services, expand its offerings, extend branch hours and upgrade its facilities after years of deferred maintenance to its aging locations. It will all take time, additional dollars and information, but the city’s approved budget for library services funds that research.

“What we need now is data, and that is something we don’t have yet,” Library Executive Director Kate Larsen. “I know we are not offering the services we should be providing. Our issues won’t be solved in one budget cycle.”

But the City Council-approved budget is a start. The library’s budget of $29.5 million during the next two years marks an increase of about $3 million over the 2017-2018 and includes money for a strategic plan for future service expansion, according to budget documents. That process could take more than a year. But more immediate changes are already afoot. The library system’s busiest branches – Moore, Wheelock and Kobetich – will soon offer Sunday hours, at least during the school year, for example. That change comes as a step that could lead to six-day operations at other branches since now many Tacoma residents travel to Pierce County Library branches during the weekends since their city libraries are closed.

“We know there is demand for Sundays,” Larsen said.

The Eastside Community Center will have a new, mini library through a partnership with Metro Parks Tacoma, which owns the facility. Another mini library is coming to the Hilltop, possibly at People’s Community Center, but those details are being worked out. Those neighborhoods haven’t had library services of their own since branches in those underserved communities closed in 2011, at a time when the city was facing massive budget shortfalls. The mini libraries will offer books and materials through a kiosk. The machines can hold about 800 items, from books, DVDs, Chromebooks and materials from around the library’s network that was specifically placed on hold for patrons.

The machines won’t be standalone features, however. The library’s budget of $200,000 for the machines come with money to also cover staffing to develop programs such as story times, science programs and curate the offerings in the collection.

“We aren’t just plunking down a machine and walking away from it,” Larsen said during a study session on the budget. “We are thinking of this as an improvement of service that we aren’t providing right now for the communities in the Eastside and the Hilltop.”

The mini libraries aren’t meant to remain forever, either. The idea behind them is to bring at least some services to those neighborhoods sooner rather than later as the library undergoes the feasibility study that would address the future locations of new branches. That process will take millions of dollars and several years.

Further complicating any discussion or timeline of new branches is the roster of needed repairs at the each of the systems existing branches. The biennial budget includes $1.8 million to chip away at that, including roof and HVAC improvements at the Fern Hill, Wheelock, Moore and Swasey branches. The library system will also upgrade its computer and network infrastructure, while it explores ways to digitize its collection of hundreds of thousands of historical negatives and glass plates that are currently stored in trailers at the Mottet branch parking lot. The Richards Collection was being stored in trailers at a parking lot next to the main branch but had to move because the lot was sold for a development.

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