The Pitkin County Library closed all day last Thursday, as its 23 staff members strategized on how to improve or remodel the facility.
County voters last year shot down library plans to take out $5 million in bonds to build a 7,000-square-foot expansion of the 22-year-old building, which would have extended it 60 feet onto Galena Plaza.
Library director Kathy Chandler and her staff are hoping to find a way to meet some of the goals of the expansion within their existing building envelope, and without voter approval or additional public funding. The library has a $5 million endowment that was donated for a remodel or expansion.
Goals of the expansion included rearranging the stacks to meet evolving user demands, expanding and moving the children’s area, and adding a public meeting room that could be accessed from an outside entrance.
“We looked at the services we provide and how new technology plays into those services and what we may be able to do with the building to meet some of the recommendations that had been made,” said Chandler.
In the short term, they’ve prioritized improving their self-checkout system, which library users have identified as hard-to-use and which often causes the building’s theft alarm to go off when people leave with self-checked books.
Their hope is to perfect that system, which would free up librarians and staffers to assist customers on computers and downloading e-books. Demand for those digital services has increased dramatically in recent years, and was at the center of their scuttled expansion plans.
“That’s changed how we do business,” said Chandler. “So that’s what we’re working toward.”
The staff has not yet presented their recommendations to the library board of directors.
They opted to close the library for the day in order to gather all of the staff together. They posted signs in the library for several weeks before the meeting, giving advance notice of the rare closure. The library originally planned to close and meet on Sunday, April 14 but changed the plan to accommodate people seeking to use the facility to file their taxes on the eve of Tax Day.
Chandler said the library received no complaints about the day-long closure.
She said she’s likely to convene her whole staff for more brainstorming sessions in the future, which would necessitate more closures. But, she said, she would aim to hold them on holidays when the library in the past has stayed open.
“We will probably have another meeting but won’t close down like that again anytime soon,” she said, “because it’s hard on people who expect us to be open.”
The most popular sections of books in the library are currently in the most hard-to-reach places, noted Susan Kent, a Los Angeles-based library consultant, in an evaluation of the library during the expansion planning process. Chandler and her staff had hoped to find a way to reconfigure the shelves in the current building, to quell that problem. But they weren’t able to find a workable solution.
“We wanted to see if we could pull a rabbit out of a hat at this meeting,” Chandler said. “And the conclusion was that it doesn’t work to rearrange the collection in this amount of space.”
For now, she said, library officials will continue to put their heads together on how to improve the space without an expansion. The library also is working with city building officials on planned repairs at the Rio Grande parking garage, next to the library, where they are hoping to add supports in the garage ceiling to accommodate a future library expansion.