Kenai library looks to future

Posted: Monday, February 03, 2003

The Kenai Community Library has many things to offer its patrons, including books, computers, Internet access and children's story time. What it doesn't have is a coherent vision for future development and the funding to make that development happen.

For now, it will settle for just the vision.

To that end, there will be a library visioning session held Tuesday in the city council chambers at city hall, where current library patrons and other community members can share their ideas about what resources and services the library should offer in the future and how the library can better meet the needs of the changing community.

The meeting will begin around 7 p.m., following the Library Commission meeting at 6:30 p.m.

"We are just really looking forward to as many people coming as possible," said Ewa Jankowska, library director. "And getting input, not just about the building itself ... but what people want us to have in the building, what services and new programs.

"Although there are many libraries being built, there is less space devoted to books and more devoted to other types of community programs. As the peninsula is changing, our demographics are changing and with the economic situation being what it is, we would like to make sure we're proactive in what we'd like to do for the community to be responsive."

The meeting will have a moderator and recorder. It will begin with Jankowska talking briefly about some of the general trends going on in library development, then it will be up to the participants from the community to share their ideas, even if they're untraditional. In fact, the more off-the-wall, the better.

"I just want people to be open-minded," Jankowska said. "Don't think in the traditional terms of what the library does. It may be something unusual for now, but it may be kind of normal in the future. Everybody's trying to find a way to bring all kinds of groups of the community to libraries. Whether those are working, we don't know yet. But everybody's trying something new."

Jankowska said the library's patronage has risen by 20,000 in just a year, from 80,000 in 2001 to 100,000 in 2002.

"We know those numbers are going up. We would like to know the quality (of the library) is equal to the quantity."

The goal of the meeting is to come up with a list of suggestions that can be turned into a vision statement and a type of schematic for future growth.

Expanding the library's facilities has been a goal of the library commission, the Friends of the Library group and the city for several years. The most likely way that expansion is going to happen is if the city can up with about $1 million for the project, which could then be used to secure matching grants to pay for the rest of the estimated $1.4 million project.

However, the city's current financial situation does not bode well for that expansion happening anytime in the near future. But if and when funding does become available, these groups hope to have a plan for expansion already in place.

There is an architectural plan already drawn up for three phases of library expansion. With Tuesday's meeting, Jankowska hopes to develop a plan for how the library can expand its services and programs along with the building.

"We're hoping if in case that funding becomes available that if we go then and try to ask for matching funds, we will have a better case for getting those grants," Jankowska said. "There are lots of other interest groups that are crying for money everywhere, so if we have to compete for (grants), we want to make sure we are really up to date with what our community wants. It has to be a community-driven effort."

Although the library doesn't have the money or room to implement any significant changes at this point, there may be some ideas generated in Tuesday's meeting that could be implemented now.

"Basically, I don't think that this coming year's funding would allow us to do anything drastically new," Jankowska said. "But there may be something we can do within the funding available to us. Instead of 'X' we would buy 'Y,' or something like that. That's the kind of input we always want."

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