Library cramped for space

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Susan De Wardt is all too familiar with the lack of space at Bud Werner Memorial Library.

Through the years, she has seen the meeting rooms for book signings and authors' talks disappear, as well as the tables where she could spread out six or seven books to do research and her two school-age children could do homework or group projects.

"It hasn't been user-friendly," De Wardt said. "Steamboat's numbers have outgrown the space."

Having a library card for most of her life and being a frequent library user, De Wardt readily volunteered when the East Routt Library Board asked for community members to give input on the library's current and future needs.

For the past few years, the library board has looked at expanding its downtown facility. Last spring, it bought land in the block between 12th and 13th streets and Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street. Library Director Chris Painter said the district is committed to expanding onto that piece of land, but the district has yet to decide whether the expansion would be in the form of a new building or a remodel of the existing one.

Since August, De Wardt and 14 other residents have met twice a month to look at the library's services, collections and staffing. In January, the group, known as the Blue Ribbon Committee, passed its recommendations to the board.

At the top of the list was the need for a larger facility, which the group determined necessary to provide the services, house the collections and support the staff that already exist.

The group also looked at ways to expand services and recommended a teen space, group study rooms and quiet reading areas, and more computers for public use with staff to help research.

"The first and most shocking realization was how crowded our current library is now," said Blue Ribbon Committee member Lynn Abbott.

Abbott uses the library but was unaware of the overcrowded children's area and the lack of space for staff until the Blue Ribbon Committee started to study the situation.

Through the years, as shelves were added to accommodate the library's growing collection, more meeting areas, reading chairs and tables were taken out, Abbott said.

Painter said she gets constant requests from groups -- ranging from those learning to speak Spanish to parents who home school their children -- looking for a place to meet.

"People want to come to the library and spend time reading, studying and doing research, work on projects with several other people," Painter said. "That is where we have a limited amount of seating."

Building a new, multi-use facility to house the library, as well as an arts center or recreational center, for example, has been discussed since library-expansion talks began. But after studying the library's needs and the constraints of the site, the Blue Ribbon Committee decided a multi-use building was not feasible.

"It would spread the library too thin to satisfy everyone's needs in the community," Abbott said.

Blue Ribbon Committee members also thought that a branch facility was not an answer to the library's space limitations. A community the size of Steamboat is not large enough to support two branch libraries, they said. Abbott said a branch library would mean a duplication of resources and staff and could dilute the downtown library resources.

The committee determined the library's No. 1 priority should continue to be a well-managed, quality book collection but made suggestions on other services the library could offer.

Topping the list is a space where teens could meet for studying. The space also could include a teen collection and computers.

Currently, the library has a teen collection in its basement and no special place for preteen readers, who are too old for the children's section but can be too rambunctious for the adult section, De Wardt said.

"Right now, a whole population of library users are being ignored," she said.

The committee's recommendation also calls for expanding the children's library by adding seating, shelving, a dedicated story room and space for children's programs and activities.

At the heart of the recommendations was an emphasis on creating a place where people can meet. The idea of a library as a community gathering space is one that is common throughout the country, Painter noted, and said in the late 1800s, Steamboat's first library was established in a community hall.

"It is the one place in the community that is inviting and welcoming to all citizens, all ages," Painter said. "It has no economic restrictions, no age restrictions and no costs."

More reading spaces and sound-proof group study rooms and meeting rooms for four to six people were encouraged. A larger room that could be used for author talks, book signings and cultural programs, or divided into smaller rooms, also was suggested.

Technology was another key element in the committee's recommendation. Abbott said the group shied away from the more institutional look of having a single room dedicated to computers. Instead, she said, the committee preferred the idea of scattered computer stations throughout the library and having a group of computers in a research section.

The committee recommended expanding staff resources to help with research using computer databases, Abbott said.

Recommendations also were made for the library to have capabilities that could allow library users to hook private laptops to the Internet.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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