It's about bringing the 10-location Stark County District Library system into the modern era, advocates say.
It's time to modernize the Stark County District Library system.
The people who run the 10-location local library are making that their key point in pitching a proposed eight-year, 2.2-mill additional library levy.
They made it clear that while the levy, if approved by voters on Nov. 6, would bring greater fiscal sustainability, much of the $3.1 million in additional dollars would be spent on redesigning library spaces, installing new technology, wiring library buildings to improve computer and internet access and replacing deteriorating roofs.
Benefits would include: more patrons getting better assistance with library resources, like laptop computers; more patrons getting access to classes, now often booked, on improving their job and technology skills; more library staff helping young children read; and increasing the number and quality of meeting spaces.
Mary Ellen Icaza, the new Stark County District Library executive director; Jennifer Welsh, the library district's community libraries director; and Stephanie Cargill, communications director met recently at the Jackson Township branch — a leased space at Marketplace at Nobles Pond. There, they demonstrated the concepts, designs and technology they have experimented with at the branch with the goal now of replicating the model at other branches, freeing library staff to go around the library looking proactively for patrons to assist rather than checking out books behind a circulation desk.
The library officials then went to North Branch at 189 25th St. NW in Canton.
The branch, built in 1966, still has many of the vestiges of a 20th century library. The roof needs a costly replacement within a few years, and half of the building lacks the wiring to power computers properly. And with more patrons switching to mobile devices with WiFi, the lesser-used desktop computer stations take up precious space.
They said that without hiring an architect, they could not provide detailed cost estimates for modernizing the library system nor say how much of the $3.12 million in additional funding from the levy would go to address each aspect of the system's makeover.
If voters approve the measure, the Stark County District Library board has pledged to repeal an existing 1.7-mill levy set to expire next year. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay a net increase of $29.38 a year.
Voters in the Massillon, Alliance, Marlington, North Canton, Louisville, Northwest and Minerva local school districts have separate library systems and will not vote on the levy. The property tax increase would be on the ballot in all other areas of Stark County.
The Stark County District Library has provided this outline of how the additional $3.12 million a year would be spent:
$1.6 million a year to upgrade the technology in branches and revamp their spaces.
$1 million a year on facility maintenance, renovations and replacing carpets, roofs, furniture and heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems.
$500,000 a year on expanding reading and literacy programs for preschoolers; expanding programs to help patrons find jobs and develop work skills; buying the rights to lend more electronic books and acquiring more materials such as books, databases, music and movies. Also, expanding Wi-Fi hotspots and the library's bike share program.
While a portion of the additional levy dollars would help offset any future declines in state funding and cover rising costs, library officials say the levy goes beyond maintaining the status quo.
The primary focus won't be hiring people but using technology to free staff to help expand literacy programs for young children, teaching classes that bolster patrons' skills and providing more personal assistance to patrons, they said. But the expansion of those programs might involve using levy money to hire some people, they said.
At the Jackson branch, Welsh pointed to vending machines at the entrance that could be accessed when the library was closed. Patrons could swipe their library cards to retrieve books, audio books, DVDs and video games from the machines. And librarians could leave materials in lockers patrons could open after hours.
"This allows patrons to put an item on hold and not worry on whether they are able to come in during business hours in order to pick up items," Welsh said, adding that the branch doesn't have enough lockers to meet the demand. "Part of what we've been looking for because that's such a popular and in-demand item is looking at ways to use that at other locations as well."
Welsh said the Jackson branch is the only one in the system with the vending machines. Icaza said whether it would be feasible to install lockers and vending machines elsewhere would depend on the other branch's physical layout.
Welsh also discussed the branch's two self-service checkout machines. The library placed radio-frequency identification tags in each book and circulated item so the two self-service scanners in the Jackson Township branch could scan them more easily when patrons checked them out.
The library staffer doesn't have to sit behind a desk checking out books and can move around looking for patrons who need assistance.
Welsh also pointed to a machine that allows patrons to check out laptops for use within the library branch, eliminating the need for desktop computer stations that take up valuable space. Tables also can be wheeled around making it easier to change the space layout for events. Digital screens on the walls, which are easier to change, also provide information about library offerings.
Welsh said, "So this not having to interact with every patron here (at checkout) frees staff up to do one-on-one appointments for technology to help people to access job search materials or just how to use their phone, which we get a lot of here. It enables them to help people find materials that they're looking for. It helps them understand services we have that aren't visually apparent."
When seeing someone checking out a travel book, for example, the staffer could ask, "Did you know you could get your passport done at the library?"
"Services like that, it helps them have that conversation with patrons rather than be trapped at a desk just moving items back and forth," Welsh said.
Library officials did not immediately have available the cost of the machines or how much they would cost to install at other branches.
The library system plans to construct a new Jackson Township library building with 10,000 square feet and triple the space of the current branch for meeting rooms. But officials say that's separate from the levy funding. When construction would begin on the new building is not yet clear.
At North Branch, officials said it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace the roof and that of the main location on Market Avenue N. They also want to upgrade the North Branch's lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and replace the worn carpeting and renovate the restrooms.
A building upgrade hasn't taken place since 2001, Cargill said. Welsh said they also want to reconfigure the shelving, which has shelves higher than many patrons can reach, and replace the computer stations with laptops, freeing up space; and install electrical wiring so new devices can be plugged in for the eastern half of the building. And they want to move the noisier children's area from the meeting rooms and add two smaller study rooms.
"This is not an ideal setup," Welsh said of the North Branch's current configuration.
The changes would be in addition to installing self-checkout machines that would allow them to get rid of the large circulation desk that Icaza called, "a little intimidating. It's a barrier" and that Welsh says "uses a lot of important real estate in the room."
Icaza said, "We don't want to be your grandmother's library."
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