Kenai library expansion shouldn’t be shelved

Voice of the Peninsula

Posted: Monday, December 19, 2005

Kenai has enjoyed another great holiday celebration weekend. Santa arrived, the parade was great and the fireworks spectacular. We even got a good load of snow for the first Salvation Army benefit snowmachine classic. The only thing missing for me was the library wasn’t open.

It was a case of you don’t miss it until it’s not there. I’m so used to dropping in there whenever I want a warm spot or a brief chat, even a restroom, that to have it unavailable for four whole days was a shock to my system. Not that the staff didn’t deserve a holiday break — they’re open to the public nearly 60 hours a week besides working the hours before and after to accomplish all the business that keeps the library going. And I was warned with a big sign that anyone coming in the door couldn’t miss. But where else in town can one spend a leisurely, warm hour or so just reading or listening or thinking and not spend a dime, unless you count Sees chocolate or gourmet coffee beans offered by the Friends of the Library as a fundraiser.

All the fuss over Wal-Mart, pro and con, has pushed other community matters to the back burner it seems. At the recent Planning and Zoning Commission meeting where people sounded off about the good and bad of having Wal-Mart come to our community, the Friends of the Kenai Library also made a presentation to place the library expansion and addition project back on the capital improvements list.

Many good points were made by interested citizens, all of them positive, but it’s not flashy or life changing so probably the only ones listening were the choir.

For instance, the library has seen in excess of 13,000 patrons in the past six months.

Granted, many of those are repeats, but isn’t that what the proponents of Wal-Mart are saying: The big store will bring customers to Kenai over and over? The library has cardholders all over the peninsula, from Nikiski to Homer and over to Sterling who keep coming back. Not to mention the summer visitors who return each year and bring their cards to use while they are here.

This project has been on the drawing board for at least 10 years. If it had been done then, to the specs offered at the time, the public computers would be in a quieter, more private place now. The conference room wouldn’t have to substitute as the home for story time and more than one group at a time could hold a meeting there. The stacks and aisles would be handicapped accessible, the juvenile reading area big enough to study in, and the storage area someplace central instead of all over town.

The cost would have been less, and the citizens of Kenai would have a building that lives up to the terrific reputation the library has earned because the staff has the know-how and flexibility to make it work, whatever the challenge.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must let you know I volunteer at the library three days a week, most weeks, and have for a good many years. I also belong to a couple of organizations that meet at the library. I’ve moved tables, stacked chairs, juggled meeting dates and even sat on the floor in the children’s area to attend a meeting when another group was using the conference room. But the library is still the best place to meet because it is central to the membership, user friendly and quiet.

Whether Wal-Mart is a benefit or a detriment to the area can certainly be debated, but Kenai Community Library is a definite attribute to Kenai. We should all be adamantly committed to the library expansion and addition project.

My granddaughters are confirmed users of the library now, and I hope it doesn’t take until their granddaughters are celebrating Christmas Comes to Kenai to finally get some much-needed space.

Virginia Walters is a retired teacher. She volunteers at Kenai Community Library and spends her spare time researching genealogy and writing.

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