Too many books, not enough shelves

Soldotna library’s patrons far exceed city’s population

Posted: Sunday, August 27, 2006

With the growing number of patrons now exceeding three times Soldotna’s total population, the city’s public library is looking to expand.

In a statistics-laden report to the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, librarian Margaret Brewster said the library has 12,151 registered patrons, and for every new book that comes in, one must be removed from the shelves.

Soldotna’s population is 4,057 according to the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

Brewster said the majority of the library patrons besides those who live in Soldotna, are full-time Kenai Peninsula residents, many living in Ninilchik, Nikiski, Kenai and Sterling.

During the 2005-06 fiscal year, the library registered 878 new permanent-resident patrons and 55 temporary ones, said Brewster, who explained that temporary library cards are available to visitors from the Lower 48 at a cost of $25, $20 of which is refundable at the end of the year.

“Usually we only get new temporary patrons during the summer months,” she said. “This summer we have 47 new temporary patrons.”

In addition to counting library cards, the library also monitors traffic with a newly installed people counter device.

“Just for the month of July this year our people counter recorded 11,558 people entering our library,” Brewster said.

She said the library’s collection has grown with the increase in patronage and the library has “almost completely run out of shelving space for new books.”

“We are currently at the point for every new book we get in, we have to weed a previous one out,” she said.

In 2005, the library added 2,906 new books and removed 2,512.

Many are sold during the library’s used book sales, which have expanded from once a year to once a month — the last Wednesday of each month.

“With an increase in registered patrons, we should be increasing the size of our collection ... but the book count remains the same,” Brewster said.

With 40,394 items in its collection, the library has an average of 3.32 books per patron. With a constant number of items and an increasing number of patrons, that average falls, Brewster said.

“My recommendation is to expand with a 24- by 35-foot addition straight out from the current adult collection area,” Brewster said in a memo to the council.

On Thursday, City Manager Tom Boedeker said the city has enough land to expand and to add some parking spaces behind the library.

He said adding onto the library as Brewster envisions would be the least disruptive to people currently using the library.

“Basically we could build a 25- to 28-foot by 38-foot expansion and then tie it in to the existing building,” he said.

His hope is that the council will approve funds for engineering and design to work to see if the idea is feasible.

At its meeting on Wednesday, the city council approved a priority list of capital projects requiring grant funding, including design of the library expansion, which was ranked sixth of seven projects on the list.

In addition to creating more space for increasing the size of its collection, Brewster said an expansion would allow for a needed conference room which would be used for book talks, genealogy programs and visiting authors; a new children’s listening center; and expansion of the children’s area by moving the existing reference section.

The library already has doubled the number of patron computers from three to six and expanded the study area for teens.

“We have a pretty big teen population,” said Brewster, adding the library’s biggest number of users are children.

She said she and other city officials have been talking about an expansion for a couple of years, and Wednesday was her first presentation of the idea to the council.

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