One of Kenai's most valuable assets desperately needs more room

Looking for a real bargain?

Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2003

I attended the Kenai Community Library visioning session on Feb. 4. About 20 people attended who were not directly associated with the library staff or commission. Not a remarkable representation of the community, but respectable for an icy Tuesday night.

One of the interesting items gleaned from the

introduction by director Ewa Jankowska, that produced further thought for me, was this quote from American Library Association President John W. Berry: "... Data confirms what librarians have seen from experience -- that in times of economic difficulties people turn to their libraries. ..."

Kenai Community Library is a good example of that axiom. While the facility is well used at all times, the circulation and new patron statistics for the past year have risen more than in the year previously in inverse relation to the employment and economic situation in the state and country.

Technically, the city of Kenai is the patron base for our library. In reality, we have card holders from all over the peninsula with the majority of those being from Kenai, Soldotna and the Nikiski area. With the influx of summer visitors, the library dispenses "temporary" cards to those who will be spending the summer here. Many of these users return year after year, still clutching their Kenai library card.

The visioning meeting produced a lot of really good ideas. Many were of the "if-we-couldhave-our-druthers" dreams, but from those came some sound, workable concepts. More public relations, a modified "bookmobile," community fund-raisers and outreach to teen-agers were a few of the suggestions.

The thread throughout, however, was more space, a vision that has been on the drawing board since forever.

A study done by Friends of the Library in 1995 in preparation for putting a li-brary addition bond issue onto the ballot surmised that a 15,000-square-foot addition was needed to bring the li-brary up to speed for 1995 requirements. Needs included handicap access, work space, privacy for the public computers, better lighting and more space for the collection among other items.

Needless to remind the community, the bond issue failed. But the Kenai library kept plugging along. Longtime director, Emily DeForest, who retired in 1999, rallied the troops and rearranged the shelves for better, if not handicapped, access. She also instituted the Sunday openings, at the request of the patrons, and maintained an excellent children's selection besides bringing the library into the technological age with computers for the use of the public both online and off.

Ewa Jankowska has big shoes to fill, but continues to promote the notion that the Kenai Community Library is still the best one on the peninsula. It is open to the public nearly 60 hours a week, including evening hours and Sundays. The entire collection grows steadily, fast outgrowing available space. Internet access has burgeoned with available technology. The library catalog is available on the Internet, and circulation is at an all-time high. Children's programs draw more and more young readers.

But the old problems are still haunting the stacks: no space, limited staff hours, a drop in funding and how to promote the library to the public.

Volunteers pick up some of the routine jobs to free the staff for the professional duties, but the volunteer base has shrunk over the years. New faces are needed and would be welcomed at the library a couple of hours a week. That helps but doesn't solve the problem of limited staff hours.

The Friends of the Library regularly holds fund-raisers for the library, including the book sale and the autumn raffle. The See's candy sales also are dedicated to library needs. Many patrons have willed collections to the library, and often memorial donations are made in a loved one's name. All of these funding sources are welcome and used to best advantage.

None of them will solve the biggest problem, however, that of no space.

It was suggested at the visioning session that some of the material be moved off site. That may be the immediate answer to the available space problem, but it adds to the problem of staff hours or impedes the efficiency of the program by making it necessary to call ahead for an appointment to use certain materials.

Public relations starts with word of mouth. If you haven't visited lately, stop on by and see what a library of the 21st Century is like. If you have a couple of spare hours, volunteer at the library. There is always something to do. Then spread the word.

The visioning session was a success in that it brought together a group to begin a process. The ideas gathered will be compiled for further discussion. Some of the concepts may be implemented in the near future, others will be put on a wish list, but all will be considered.

Our community library is one of the greatest assets in the city of Kenai. It's time everyone was made aware of the bargain they're getting at 163 Main Street Loop.

Virginia Walters, a freelance writer, is longtime Kenai Community Library volunteer.

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