Columbia City Library opens a new chapter

For the past year, construction and remodeling has deprived south Seattle residents of one of their most beloved libraries, a situation which will end on Sunday, August 22 when the Columbia Branch of the Seattle Public Library will once again open its doors to the public. For South End residents new to the area, or those who have only recently rediscovered the joys of a community library, the Columbia branch boasts a rich history.

Located at 4721 Rainier Ave., the library was constructed in 1915 with assistance from the Carnegie Library Foundation, it is located in the Columbia City Landmark District, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building's recent facelift and expansion took over three years to coordinate.

" It was a lengthy process because of the extensive community involvement, and the desire on the part of the Library Board and the Architectural Land Preservation board to respect the architecture of the original building," noted Columbia Library's Project Manager Justine Kim.

The 5,595-foot expansion increased the library's size to 12,420 square-feet. Some of the most important structural improvements include a leveled, resurfaced parking lot; modernized electrical, mechanical, and ventilation systems; and a more patron-centered interior layout of the library's old and new sections.

Visitors will immediately notice the state-of-the-art instructional areas featuring 24 flat-screen computer terminals and two well-lit study rooms complete with white boards and computer access. Downstairs, visitors have access to a new meeting room featuring an automatic projection system and a spacious floor plan that comfortably accommodates 100 people. There's also a children's area cleverly surrounded by windows on three sides with an alphabet motif carpet.

Throughout the building, enhancements were made for people with disabilities. One of the most notable improvements is a double-sided handicapped-accessible elevator.

Visitors who step inside the original entryway are greeted with walls painted a soothing antique-vanilla, revamped lighting fixtures aimed to enhance interior visibility even on the dreariest Seattle day, and new, freestanding shelves that better accommodate the library's expanded book collection. Another welcome addition is the innovative check-out desk, which was selected for easier patron assess. Its oak trim matches the original oak molding featured prominently throughout the library's main room.

Better technology, better service

Perhaps the biggest change involves the procedure for checking out materials. The library is now equipped with a radio frequency identification system (RFID). According to branch manager Valerie Garrett-Turner, the equipment is the latest in material handling technology, and streamlines checking out materials to a 10 second process.

" Patrons will be given the opportunity to check out books on their own, although librarian staff will certainly be available as before," said Garrett-Turner. "For those that want to use the self- serve checkout station, the process is quite simple. The patron steps up to a flat screen computer terminal, types in their library number, and deposits their materials on a specialized desk pad. The pad then reads [a radio chip placed in] the materials and gives the patron a printout of what was checked out. The patron is then free to go."

Garrett-Turner was quick to point out that no library staff positions were lost as a result of this new technology.

"If anything the RFID system will allow staff more time to spend with patrons, particularly those with special needs. This is a major benefit," asserted Garrett-Turner. "[RFID] also takes into account the dramatic increase in library usage over the past several years with some branches reporting double digit increases. As always, library staff are available to help patrons with manipulating a computer mouse, logging onto the computer, accessing the internet, and setting up free email accounts. Email is really important in this community with many patrons wanting to keep in touch with extended families overseas."

In addition to the enhanced usability, the library now has 40,200 items in its collection. Along with books, the collection also includes CDs, DVDs, large print books, and foreign- language films.

Unexpected amenities

" The old space had these architectural columns so visitors attending story time, puppet shows, or other programming would have blind spots that would interfere with their line of vision. Not anymore," Garrett-Turner noted about the improved children's area.

Columbia Park is easily accessed from the adjacent children's room, a boon to parents with strollers. Another un-library-like feature is the fact that the meeting room has a small kitchen area so visiting groups can bring food to their gatherings.

When asked if bringing the food into the library is breaking the rules, Garrett-Turner said no.

"We also now allow non-alcoholic lidded drinks in the library as well," emphasized Garrett-Turner. "Many groups like to share food as part of building fellowship. Besides, what we want patrons to know is that the library is the center of the community."

Both Garrett-Turner and Justine Kim, the library's project manager, believe Columbia City patrons will be very pleased with the enhancements. According to Garrett-Turner and Kim, the renovation planning groups took very good care of this community treasure by hearing patron comments and applying their suggestions to the extensive remodel.

" Patrons told us, 'Don't touch our building!' We really listened to their concerns and made the addition to complement the existing structure in a wide array of ways," said Kim. "We carefully incorporated design elements so both parts of the building flow together. The end result is a lovable addition to a very loved community landmark."

For those a bit uncomfortable with the changes, Turner adds, " Much of the old staff will be back as well. We can't wait to reopen! This is a true love affair with our patrons and this library!"

The Columbia City branch library reopening celebration takes place during regular library hours on Sunday, August 22, from 1-4 p.m. The dedication will feature Mayor Greg Nickels along with members of the library board and city council. There will be music, refreshments, and a visit from Seattle Public Library's mascot, Lu Lu the Library Fairy.[[In-content Ad]]