Archive for Sunday, October 24, 2010

LIbrary fills many roles for many people

Scenes from Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., from left: Waverunners Club at the library offers children from ages 7 to 11 to learn about artwork from the Spencer Museum of Art at Kansas University; the computer lab area located downstairs at the library contains 50 computers, and patrons are limited to two one-hour sessions per day; Seth Outcalt, of Lawrence, scans some books he was checking out using the library’s express checkout counters in this Journal-World file photo.

Scenes from Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., from left: Waverunners Club at the library offers children from ages 7 to 11 to learn about artwork from the Spencer Museum of Art at Kansas University; the computer lab area located downstairs at the library contains 50 computers, and patrons are limited to two one-hour sessions per day; Seth Outcalt, of Lawrence, scans some books he was checking out using the library’s express checkout counters in this Journal-World file photo.

October 24, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of four stories centering on the proposal to expand the Lawrence Public Library. In the Nov. 2 election, voters will be asked to approve $18 million for the library, an amount that would be paid back through property taxes during the next 20 years.


Father, baby, bag, stroller and toddler all arrive at the Friday morning Lawrence Public Library storytime a few minutes late.

Jane Johnston’s voice already is blooming like a flower as she dives into today’s subject.

“Let’s talk about bears,” Johnston says from the front of the room.

Rectangular carpet mats are laid out in a semi-circle on the worn auditorium flooring, and there are about 20 kids and at least a dozen parents sitting around Johnston and her books and puppets. But there’s room for another, she motions to the father. He points to the baby in the stroller and then shakes his head like a dog trying to flick a flea from its ear.

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Instead, he pulls a mat back farther from the crowd and taps it with his hand. His toddler son does not get the hint to sit down but rather taps his feet in some sort of happy dance, even though there’s no music.

The music had been just a few minutes earlier. “Storytime, storytime, come and share a story time. Look at books, listen well to the stories we will tell.”

Apparently, the music lives on in the toddler’s soul. It must be contagious, as a few others around the half-circle begin to stir. Johnston, her voice still coming across like a daffodil in April, says to the children, “Oh, are you watching? Did you see that bear go by?”

Perhaps the infant in the stroller did. Regardless, she has something to say and lets it out with a wail. The father searches a bag for a bottle, scoops up the baby and begins to do his own swaying-sort of dance without music.

Johnston continues unfazed. A stirring baby in storytime is like the sounds of crickets on a summer evening. No one really minds.

But the father does, as the baby bottle doesn’t have the effect he hoped. He slips out with baby into the lobby. His son, junior Fred Astaire, continues to dance for a moment until he realizes his biggest fan has left.

So a moment later, father, baby, bag, bottle and toddler — hugging father’s leg — all stand in the library lobby.

Don’t tell this guy that it is just another quiet day at the library.

• • •

Leaders of the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., have been trying to get that message across for some time now. As voters prepare to go to the polls on Nov. 2 to determine the outcome of an $18 million bond issue for the library, leaders have been emphasizing that the idea of a stoic, slow-paced library is but a memory from a Jane Austen novel.

They tout several numbers:

• 1.36 million items — books, DVDs, audio books — were checked out in 2009. That’s up 11 percent from a year earlier.

• 96,018 separate transactions at the reference department were filled, up 3 percent.

• 40,862 people attended a library program, ranging from storytime to film screenings. That’s up 12 percent.

• 535 public meetings — events not put on by the library — took place in the library’s auditorium and gallery space.

• And use of the library’s 50 public computers has grown to the point that users are limited to two one-hour sessions per day to cut down on wait times.

For $18 million, library leaders are proposing a project that would add 20,000 square feet onto the library at Seventh and Vermont streets, and would renovate the remainder of the library. Children’s space and meeting rooms would double. A new parking garage with 250 spaces would be built in the existing parking lot, and 100 computers and a drive-through book lane would be added.

• • •

Muriel Green and her co-workers in the circulation department shake about 3,000 hands per day.

About 3,000 books get returned to the library each day, and each and every one of them gets touched by someone in the circulation department. No, bringing up the oddity of bathroom reading does not seem like a good idea. Yes, hand sanitizer is on nearly every desk.

But what circulation workers would like, even more than a discount on Purell, is new equipment that requires the books to be handled less. Currently they get touched when they are emptied out of the return bins, they get touched when they’re inspected for damage, they get touched when they are scanned back into the system, they get touched when they are put on a cart, and they get touched when they are put back on the shelf in just the right spot. New equipment planned as part of the expansion would cut down on some of that touching.

In the meantime, there is one advantage to all the handling.

“One of the cooler things is you do get to see all the odd titles,” said Green, as a book, “62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer,” sits nearby. “I probably check out one or two books per week just because I’m curious.”

• • •

Some library employees shake hands in a more traditional way. Library employee Gregor Brune is the center of attention at least seven times per week. Brune, the library’s book van coordinator, brings a mini-library to seven Lawrence retirement communities each week. For an hour, he sits and talks with patrons about everything from “In Cold Blood” (“Informative but not particularly enjoyable,” was the review from one patron.) to the disposition of a friend’s cat (still fat and sassy).

A rush of business begins soon after he wheels his cart in from the parking lot and sets it up in the community room of Vermont Towers. Men and women come down and get handfuls of books and movies.

“One of the most rewarding parts of this job is how much you’re appreciated,” Brune said.

And some library employees don’t shake hands but do shake free information and even memories.

At the reference desk, the questions can be almost anything. Do you have a copy of People, the magazine that is not kept out on the shelves because it tends to walk away? Do you have a phone number for a domestic abuse center? Do you have the Batman CD that has this song on it, not that one? A quick check of determines the title of the CD. The library doesn’t have it, but through interlibrary loan they can get it in about a week.

You never know what question lurks around the corner.

“We had a guy the other day who was working on his memoirs and wanted to know the name of a burger joint he stopped at in Lawrence in 1969,” said Rachel Smalter Hall, a reference assistant. “We went to the 1969 Polk directory and we found it. That was kind of fun.”

• • •

Somewhere in the public library’s collection, there’s a book on fortune tellers. Some library supporters may soon be checking it out.

Talking with several library patrons about the proposed expansion and the upcoming vote, a sense of uncertainty was clear.

Lawrence resident Dean Owens said he thought the library expansion was badly needed. He listed most of the reasons library leaders have been espousing — a need for more computers and more children’s space in particular.

“I’m hopeful, but I’m not overly optimistic,” Owens said. “I think a great number of people just don’t want their real property taxes to increase to pay for it.”

The $18 million proposal would add about two mills to the city’s property tax rate for about 20 years. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation. On a $170,000 home, that would amount to about a $39 increase per year.

The financial issue is creating uncertainty with some voters. Of about a dozen random people interviewed — both at the library and at locations away from the library — nobody flatly rejected the idea of the expansion (although some Vote No on the Library signs started to show up in yards this week). But several voters said they hadn’t yet made up their minds.

“The word I would give you is skeptical,” said Wayne Kick. “I’m not sure we need to spend that kind of money on it. It seems like it is good library already.”

Supporters of the project, though, are betting that Lawrence voters find a way to overcome their concerns about an ailing economy.

“If we don’t do this now, I think in about 10 years, we’ll regret it,” said Valerie Unruh, who said she sometimes goes to Topeka to use the library there. “I feel like if we keep waiting for times to get better, we’re just going to be pushing it off and pushing it off. I think we should just treat it like taking off a Band-Aid — just rip it off and be done with it.”


SeaFox 6 years, 11 months ago

"Of about a dozen random people interviewed — both at the library and at locations away from the library — nobody flatly rejected the idea of the expansion (although some Vote No on the Library signs started to show up in yards this week). But several voters said they hadn’t yet made up their minds."

Nobody wants to admit they're such skinflints. A $39 increase PER YEAR? That's less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks a month for a NEW LIBRARY. That's a WTFeasy decision.

Kash_Encarri 6 years, 11 months ago

Since I don't drink coffee, especially at Starbucks, I'm sure you won't mind picking up my $39/year. Thanks SeaFox.

mr_right_wing 6 years, 11 months ago

People like you love to point out; it's only pennies! Well as more and more taxes get added on those pennies add up! Hence the term "nickled and dined to death!"

By the way...I have no problem with those pennies, nickles or even dimes for the library at a time when the economy is better and more folks are working. I promise you, the government (be it city, county or state) will be back for more and more pennies before this economy improves! I say no to this additional tax just like I will say no to those to come (until I have those extra pennies to spare!).

LadyJ 6 years, 11 months ago

Ask the elderly if they buy a cup of coffee a month at Starbucks. No Social Security increase again this year and Medicare premiums going up. The prescription insurance doubled to $64 dollars a month. Waiting to see what the Medical part goes up to.

Centerville 6 years, 11 months ago

When they resort to the 'cup of coffee' meme, it means they know it's all flim-flam.

Moderateguy 6 years, 11 months ago

But mostly it's a place for the bums to hang out and surf the internet. Vote NO!

thiscametomind 6 years, 11 months ago

Agreed that the library is needed. Agreed that the library is MUCH more than just book, dvds, computer access, music. Agreed on its social, business, arts, entertainment value. Agreed on the mighty job a lot of the librarians do with graciousness, though some are not so gracious. Agreed some improvements should be made, ie: Their DVD 'maintenance' is, at best, laughable in the neighborhoods.

Disagree on renovation timing in this economy. Disagree that millions should be diverted to the library when schools are closing, teachers are overburdened with terribly low pay. Disagree that $39 a year is a "wtf" easy decision in this economy. Disagree that the community to be taxed spends that much a month at Starbucks as business and ku visitors to our community are the big contributors to their profits. Disagree that "skinflints" are the reigning no voters for the library decision.

Community money needs are everywhere right now; schools, teachers, fire fighters and their equipment, police and their equipment, the community and individuals who live in it, the workers and programs who work valiantly for the mental and physical wellbeing of those with the lowest incomes. Would like to see everyone having funds enough. Everyone. It is not possible in this economy. To accept the cuts to funding in these areas while expanding and renovating our library is ill advised at the very least. It would certainly help the library, though at the cost to greater needs in our community just now.

Stuart Evans 6 years, 11 months ago

I don't believe that any government agency should build any new buildings unless the income from said building would outweigh the cost to construct. Eventually maybe our economy and nation will be stronger, but that's not the case right now. We cannot afford to build monuments to ourselves, and frankly, we just don't deserve them.

Thinking_Out_Loud 6 years, 11 months ago

You want for-profit governments? That isn't an idea I could get behind.

Stuart Evans 6 years, 11 months ago

you're right, I can't get behind that either; I didn't fully consider my thought. But that should underscore how much we don't need this library expansion.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 11 months ago

The city cannot legally assist the school district = apples and onions.

Yes the city should always maintain its existing resources such as streets,sidewalks and the wonderful resource known as the public library.

Allowing the taxpayers to decide is a smart move. Yes is my vote.

Of course if the vote fails to garner a majority vote it will not be the end of the library rehab project. There must always be a plan B.

jackson5 6 years, 11 months ago

Actually, the city or county can legally assist the school district.
For starters, 1. The city can waive water charges the school district for water (Eagle Bend and the Aquatic centers do not pay for water). 2. They can use the economic development zone provisions to benefit schools (rather than benefiting developers). 3. They can provide nursing assistance. 4. They can pay a market rate for use of school facilities.

The list goes on but it will never happen with this school district administration. They seem set on implementing outdated plans developed decades ago rather than being forward thinking and building bridges with the citizens, taxpayers, and government agencies in the area.

LadyJ 6 years, 11 months ago

Set up a fund to accept private donations. Look for government grants and stimulus money and start fund raising events.

Steve Jacob 6 years, 11 months ago

Who pays for government grants and stimulus money?

mr_right_wing 6 years, 11 months ago

If it were a proposal to add additional tax to cigarettes or booze I wouldn't really have a problem with it; that is what I consider a 'voluntary tax'.

Or I'll suggest (once again) a special sales tax locally on any porn.

impska 6 years, 11 months ago

I totally agree. I'm in there weekly, and it works. You can get everything you need, there are no long lines (and no lines ever, at any time for self-checkout), there are six help desk employees for every person with a question, and I can even reserve my books online and walk in and pick them up.

The only place I see full, or close to full almost every time I go downstairs are the community internet computers, but I have never seen a crowd of people waiting to use one, so it seems like there's a pretty good number.

I even go during swimming season, on really hot days, and I have never had to wait for parking.

I don't understand why people think it needs work. What services are people NOT getting met there that they think are worth 18M dollars? This isn't a building repair vote. This is a full on, pirate-loot project that they're proposing and the only thing I hear coming from supporters is "Lawrence may have more people who will use the library one day," and "It needs a better computer lab." Both those things are debatable, and I doubt they justify 18M.

Moderateguy 6 years, 11 months ago

"The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics." - Thomas Sowell

Those of us who actually pay taxes and own property are dying by a thousand cuts. No pay raise in the last 3 years, and taxes at every level are going up.

There is absolutely no limit to the line of people showing up to the government teat with a fantastic idea on how to spend other peoples money. Vote NO!!! Next week it will be another outdoor recreation center, then another expansion of the EmpT. If the economy recovers, we can have another discussion about this particular project. Not now however.

inatux 6 years, 11 months ago

"Disagree on renovation timing in this economy."

It seems to me that if you agree the renovation should happen, then doing it at a time when the money would go toward construction jobs and the materials would be cheaper (remember 2007?) then when the recovery is stronger.

I haven't made up my mind either way yet, but using this logic, it makes more sense to take advantage of the downturn and get some stuff done.

Sunny Parker 6 years, 11 months ago

If you want to spend this much money on a library....go ahead! Give people the choice....VOTE NO

Steve Jacob 6 years, 11 months ago

Seen some no signs, and organized no campaigns are rare.

thiscametomind 6 years, 11 months ago

Clarification regarding: "Disagree on renovation timing in this economy."

Agree this is the time for renovation if funds are already in place. Absolutely. However, since funds are needing to be raised from community members, most of whom are experiencing an economy causing financial challenges, this is an ill timed tax for this renovation.

Clarification regarding: "The city cannot legally assist the school district = apples and onions."

Understood. Though my poorly stated comment was that it is the community that is taxed for funds in both areas. The same source for both needs. Indicating, not well I see, that taxing the community in this economy is better served for more needed services than library renovation.

Gedanken 6 years, 11 months ago

A "NO" vote is not a vote against the library. I support the library and believe it is an important resource for the community. I believe this plan is bad. The LJ World needs to investigate the requirements imposed by the Northeast Kansas Library System to be a Major Resource Library. One of the reasons for the expansion is to ensure that we meet the requirements for the type of library so we don't lose out on grant money.

We don't need 150+ computer lab. I have administrated computer labs in the past. This is way too many computer for the size of Lawrence and the long term operating cost is way more then what is estimated. Who came up with the magic number of 150 computers? Did they have any experience with technology?

Did you know that the requirements for a Major Resource Library also sets minimum amounts to be set on entry level wages? It also specifies that a minimum of 50% of the operating budget must be spent on personal. Shouldn't the community decide how the library is run? It sure isn't worth the burden on the tax payers for $56,700 a year in grants and yet another parking garage.

Here is a link to the requirements:

How about we raise property taxes by $2 a year and build and extension to the children's room. That is the only part of the plan I can support.

I will be voting "NO"!

kansasredlegs 6 years, 11 months ago

Library is the number one place for copyright infringment. That $39.00 per year is quickly recouped when "patrons" are making all those illegal copies for their iPods and smartphones to listen to their favorite music and videos. Don't even try a retort, this is a fact and the library knows it.

Vote NO

jesse499 6 years, 11 months ago

They want home owners that have more money than they know what to do with RIGHT? to pay alittle more for this and alittle more fore that and it adds up to a lot .But let someone that could help with the tax base like Lowes come in No we can't do that because its in the wrong place for someone they want to make the money . So I vote no tell Lawrence can do something to help the tax payer instead of just stacking more and more on our backs without letting any help come in unless it helps the few on the westside that will make money off it somehow.

mr_right_wing 6 years, 11 months ago

All these alleged "no" votes would be encouraging if it weren't for the fact that we had just as many proposed 'no' votes for the transit tax....and it passed.

I wish we could have the choice of either repealing the transit tax (preferred) OR divert it to a library that doesn't sit around empty and unused (like the buses.)

BigPrune 6 years, 11 months ago

Let all the millionaires that support this tax pay for the library and leave us little folk alone. This is a crock. $18,000,000 - that's like paying $1,800,000 for a 2000 square foot house. Such a buy! How about raising the sales taxes on businesses in the dowtown and making the downtown merchants pay for the library/parking garage? People on the west side of town get alienated, always, even though they pay more in property taxes (since their homes are worth more than other parts of town). Redistribute somewhere else.

This is Lawrence, Kansas. Always vote YES for tax increases. The taxes only add up to dollars per month. $10 buck here, $10 bucks there, $20 bucks here, $20 bucks there adds up, you pro-tax dolts.

Zachary Stoltenberg 6 years, 11 months ago

the $39 figure is a flat out lie. It's a tax and taxes are based on percentages which means the people at the bottom pay nothing and the people at the top get nailed. The more expensive the property you own is, the more this new tax will cost you, and this tax is going to stay for 20 years. Lawrence already has the highest mill levy in the state, in fact we are at the max allowed under the current state law. NO is the only way to vote on this one and the previous posters had it right. It's not a vote against the library, it's a NO to this proposal. This ridiculous, expensive, poorly timed proposal.

Chengdu808 6 years, 11 months ago

Library is spelled wrong in the headline.

Centerville 6 years, 11 months ago

Outsource the parking lot. It's lucrative if it's run correctly. That should negate the need for at least half of this new tax load. Then, how much could a drive-up drop box cost? $5,000 tops.
Then, let taxpayers go enjoy their well-earned daily cups of coffee.

Zachary Stoltenberg 6 years, 11 months ago

so how much of the 18 million is going to pay for Scot Pollard's mini-golf course. Yes, we definitely need taxpayer funding to continue things like this:

Since they are doing such a great job with the funds they are already receiving...

irvan moore 6 years, 11 months ago

don't forget, 4 million for a CITY parking lot, not a library parking lot. when i was a kid i used to be afraid of clowns, now i'm scared of our city commissioners.

WHY 6 years, 11 months ago

I think there is a library in every public school in the district. Maybe they just need a few Saturday hours.

tunahelper 6 years, 11 months ago

why is it that the library always wants a cadillac when they can get by with a Kia? vote not just 'NO", but H3LL NO!!!

BigPrune 6 years, 11 months ago

Sure it's someone's pet project. Look at their lists wives first before their millionaire husbands.

Is the City backing the new library? there was something in my water bill. Do our votes not count? Has this thing already been decided? Is the fix in? It happens in liberal communities across the country. Will this pass 70% to 30%? then it will be an overwhelming victory, unquestionable. Just like the M-T Bus tax. It can't have another outcome. Lawrence is too educated and liberal for this not to happen.

d_prowess 6 years, 11 months ago

I found it funny that they say they need more space for children, but the father in the story showed up late and still had a spot. I thought others on older stories all said that people got shut out of these types of things.

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