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Library expansion needed, but where?

Assistant library director Lilliann Bryse of the Somerset Public Library easily spans the narrow aisles of books in the library Monday afternoon. One of the space issues, according to library director Norma Scott, is the narrow aisles that dead-end at the walls, making it nearly impossible for those in wheelchairs to easily access the materials. (Photo by Sarah Young)

How time flies. Twenty years went by in the blink of an eye.

At least that’s what Somerset Public Library director Norma Scott thinks. When the current Somerset Public Library was built more than 20 years ago, it came with the idea that eventually expansion would be needed, or that the building could be sold and a new library be built. According to Scott, that day came and went a long time ago.

On Monday, Feb. 10, a public meeting was held to discuss the possibility of expanding or building a new library facility. Scott was pleased with the turnout. Seventeen people came with ideas, opinions and questions.
Library board member Rita Lawson said they’re trying to anticipate what the growing community will need for the next 20 years.

“We went forward with all these issues because we need to get a discussion going,” Lawson said. “Sometimes in a smaller group setting like we had you get more input.”

The majority of people at the meeting said they would like to see the library stay downtown. According to Lawson, the village supports an expansion, but prefers the library stay downtown as well. Another suggestion was finding a “beautiful spot overlooking the Apple River,” Lawson said.

Scott said when John Thompson, library system director for the Indianhead Federated Library system, performed a needs assessment last May, he used the number of people in the library’s service population (including the Village of Somerset and the Town of Somerset), past demographics and the estimated population growth in the area in the coming years.

Thompson found that if the library hopes to meet state standards and serve people adequately 20 years into the future, it should have slightly more than 16,000 square feet. The current building is 3,500 square feet.

“With more space we could serve people better and more completely,” Scott said. “Honestly, most of our circulation population is rural. But I just don’t know where an expansion would occur here.”

Lawson said there are pluses and minuses with the current location on Hud Street. A plus is that it’s downtown and easy for people to access. A minus is the lack of parking space.

“It’s easy to get to now, but we’re restricted in parking spaces,” Lawson said. “We must explore a wide variety of options. Then we’ll feel comfortable we made a good decision when the time comes on a variety of options.”

According to Scott, a village parking ordinance states there should be one parking space for every 250 square feet of building space. This means, with staff parking, that the library should have 17 spaces. They might have that, Scott said, if they count a few spaces on the lot the village owns behind the library, toward Spring Street.

“The size we should expand to, we just don’t have the room here,” Scott said.

Scott said one suggestion included adding another 3,500 square feet to the library (toward Spring Street), then adding a second floor to the new addition and the existing space, plus extending the new second floor out over the parking area, leaving a covered parking lot.

That might be a viable option, Scott said, but for the parking issue. There would be no room left over to add the needed parking spaces to be in compliance with the village ordinance.

“Another issue with that option would be staffing,” Scott said. “We always have two staff on at all times. If we had to staff another floor, staffing would be an expensive consideration. Ultimately, we would like to keep it on one level. I just don’t know if that’s possible here though.”

The added space wouldn’t just be a place to store books, Scott said. Libraries are used for much more these days than checking out books.

“Our meeting room, whether there’s two or 15 people in it, is very small, cramped and heavily scheduled,” Lawson said. “More and more community groups are using our meeting room, and sometimes want to schedule it at the same time as another group, which is impossible.”

Scott said she would like to expand the teen and children’s areas, add more computers and more than one meeting room. More storage is a huge priority. Currently, library staff have courier bins stacked behind the circulation desk, plus the copier/fax machine, plus shelves for returned books.

“As you can see, space is extremely limited,” Scott said. “We should have been at 5,000 square feet in 2001 when the village began collecting impact fees from the library, according to service population standards then.”

Lawson said many people take advantage of the library’s Internet access, whether it be on the library’s computers or on their laptops using the Wi-Fi. She said it’s common to see people sitting in their cars near the library to use the Wi-Fi. Scott said in January 350 people logged into the library’s computers.

“People also need quiet spaces to sit down and read a book or their Kindle,” Lawson said. “The library in Roberts has some wonderful little nooks for using Wi-Fi and reading.”

Scott said she’s unsure of the next step in this process, but it will be discussed in great detail by the Library Board in the coming months. The funding for the project would come from donations, grants and fundraisers, Scott said.

Lawson said she realized from this initial information gathering session that it might be helpful to hire an architect to render a preliminary sketch based on their needs assessment.

Scott also said that might be a good idea, but the question is, what will an architect draw if no one knows where the library should expand or go?

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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