Mid-Columbia Libraries looking to expand to west Kennewick

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 19, 2014 

Pasco libraries

Elena Zavala, 20, of Pasco works on an essay for a Charter College class on Saturday at the Mid-Columbia Libraries West Pasco branch. The Mid-Columbia Libraries are already looking at building another branch because of the demand for services.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Changes in how libraries operate, from what books are stocked to where branches are located and how they're organized, has jolted traffic for the Mid-Columbia Libraries.

The west Pasco branch that opened less than a year already has the second highest traffic of all the library district's branches.

Even the Eltopia branch, closed in late 2011 and reopened a few months later, is beating circulation goals.

Now library officials are looking to open a branch in west Kennewick, possibly within three years.

West Kennewick is a clear choice for a new branch because of growth in Badger Canyon and Hansen Park, said Executive Director Kyle Cox.

The extension of Steptoe Street to Clearwater Avenue and the commercial clout of Columbia Center mall and other nearby retail areas also makes the area ideal for expansion.

It's the same logic that determined the site of the west Pasco branch, he said.

Housing has boomed near Road 68 in recent years but it's also a commercial hub where many people already spend part of their day shopping, banking and using other services.

The new Pasco branch is medium-sized and lacks a community meeting room like other libraries but has a lot of computers and a drive-up window for picking up and dropping off materials.

Both features already have proven to be highly popular.

It all fits within the library district's overarching philosophy.

"The onus is on us to make the library easy," Cox said.

It's too early to say where a branch would be built in west Kennewick or what it could look like, he said. But it likely would incorporate lessons learned when reopening the branch at Merrill's Corner and the west Pasco library, as well as what will be learned from a slew of scheduled renovations at other branches.

Mid-Columbia Libraries has 13 branches, most of them throughout Benton and Franklin counties but also one in Othello in Adams County. About 131,000 people have library cards and almost 1.9 million materials were checked out from the district's libraries in 2013.

The library district was sharply criticized in 2011 when it closed the Eltopia library because it wasn't being used much and it would save money.

But Eltopia residents petitioned to reopen it. And library board Chairman Tom Callahan admitted that the board rushed the decision to close it. But library officials said something needed to be done to improve the library's use.

The library now is stocked with more popular and contemporary books and other materials, Cox said.

Staff also were trained to have more outreach in the community, such as suggesting books to teachers to support curriculum or resources for people to use in their jobs.

The result is the branch is exceeding almost all its targets when it comes to the number of books checked out, from books for toddlers to children's fiction and adult nonfiction.

"The fact they are using the library shows they really need it," Callahan said.

And that was the catalyst for changing library operations throughout the district, officials said. More information and media are being digitized, making it easier for people to get to what they want through the internet.

Mid-Columbia Libraries has adapted to that, giving patrons access to thousands of ebooks, online magazines and other materials through services like Zinio.

But some things, such as children's books, still are preferred in traditional formats, officials said.

And some library users need help wading through the ever growing sea of information. That's where a convenient branch library with trained staff helps out.

"It's making sure we're relevant," said library Spokesman Davin Diaz.

The changes at the Pasco libraries demonstrate the transformation libraries are undergoing, officials said.

More computers, comfortable seating and the interfiling of some materials meet the technological needs of patrons while also making the library more welcoming and easier to use.

Interfiling involves putting different media in the same location if they relate to the same subject. For example, nonfiction books on space or the planets would be filed with audiobooks and documentary films on those topics.

Not all patrons like interfiling, and there have been some complaints, library officials said, though more library users have indicated they like the change.

"Google and Amazon have changed how we search for things," Diaz said. "We don't search by genre or format, just what we want."

For now, library officials are looking at what a new Kennewick branch would cost.

None of the recent projects have required the district to increase taxes or sell bonds. The library district has relied on money set aside for building projects, donations and special financing arrangements through public-private partnerships.

After that, it's a matter of determining what's needed in west Kennewick and the district's recent projects provide a good blueprint, officials said.

"It's putting the facility and services where people already are," Cox said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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