By Jenny Neyman
What could be better than cracking the spine of a new hardback, feeling the grain of the stiff, thick paper as you flip those first few pages, anticipation building to delve into the new world that awaits. Perhaps only when a whole new library feels that way.
That’s been the case since Dec. 16, when the Soldotna Public Library on Binkley Street reopened to the public after moving out of the Peninsula Center Mall, its temporary home while a renovation and expansion project was completed. From 2 to 4 p.m. Jan. 18 the library will host a grand reopening and ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially welcome the public back to its library, although Rachel Nash, library director, said that many patrons have already made themselves at home.
In the two weeks of December that the library on Binkley was reopened, it averaged 500 people a day — and that’s even with closures for the holidays. When the library was at the mall, it saw a little under 200 patrons a day, Nash said. The old library before renovation was struggling to meet the needs of the 80,000 or so people it saw a year. With the new space, Nash says her goal is to see 100,000 people in the library in 2014, and for them to enjoy the additional space, books, programs and services the expansion now allows.
“I think we are going to meet that goal,” she said.
The expansion not only allows for more of the library’s book collection to be put on the shelves, accessible to the public, but for a 50 percent increase in the book budget to update and expand the collection. But a library these days is about much more than just books. Updating and expanding technology was a big goal of the project, and the library now will have new and more computers for the public’s use, including a mobile laptop and iPad station, as well as a giant flat-screen TV that can be used in presentations and participation in the Online with Alaska Libraries videoconferencing program. And there’s a new conference/community room that holds 144 people opening to community use.
Nash said she has a hard time picking her favorite new feature, whether it’s the reading area by the gas fireplace, the community room or the expanded kids and teen sections.
“Teens haven’t had a place in the old library. They’re tomorrow’s adults and libraries won’t have the support they will need in the future without teens today,” she said.
But, really, it doesn’t matter what Nash and the other librarians like about the new space so much as what the community thinks, Nash says, as she is adamant that it’s their facility, not the staff’s nor the city’s. As such, the public is invited to bring their own scissors and participate in the ribbon-cutting at the openings, as well as to come take a tour or explore on their own.
“The people of Soldotna are the ones who voted and said they want to have a new library, that’s why I emphasize it’s not our library, it’s theirs, it’s yours, it’s for the community. Our job is to provide what they need and want. I hope everybody feels welcome.”