Crowded library’s future attracting more city attention

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 15, 2002

The city of Albert Lea needs a new library, according to librarian Lori Barkema.

&uot;In 1987 we knew this space wasn’t adequate,&uot; Barkema said. &uot;Since then we haven’t done anything about that, and our circulation has grown. Since 1995 it has doubled. We have simply outgrown our space.&uot;

The size of the library has become a large concern. The current library has 11,000 square feet of space. It serves 32,238 people and has an annual circulation of 379,821.

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City manager Paul Sparks, in the 2003 budget proposal, compared that space to those of other Southern Minnesota cities of comparable size.

In Austin, the library serves 30,674 people, has an annual circulation of 280,219 and has 25,900 square feet of space.

In Owatonna, the library serves 32,965 people, has an annual circulation of 356,952 and has 25,500 square feet of space.

Compared with Red Wing, Northfield, Fairbault, Austin, Owatonna and Winona, the Albert Lea public library has the highest circulation, the lowest amount of staffing, the third-highest service population, and the smallest building size.

&uot;We are also open more hours during the week than any other library in the state,&uot; Barkema said.

The need for a new building is strong, according to Barkema, but she says that they know the have to wait their turn with the recent high school and courthouse building decisions.

The city is well aware of the problems. At Thursday night’s budget meeting, the council spoke positively about paying someone to do an architectural feasibility study, something that will most likely be done next year.

Barkema said the most important thing for the library is to stay downtown.

&uot;We draw a lot of people downtown,&uot; Barkema said. &uot;I think we sort of act as an anchor with the courthouse being the other on the other side of downtown.&uot;

Sparks agreed. &uot;Trying to keep it towards the downtown is important,&uot; he said. &uot;I think it’s important that the city take steps towards downtown preservation rather than going along with the abandonment problem.&uot;

Barkema said the library, if moved to a different building, needs to have strong foundational bases as well as supportive structures to bear the weight of a book collection.

She said that the lot off of Broadway Avenue and Fountain Street, across from the Civic Theatre, is a place she’s been imagining would be a great spot.

&uot;It’s a great location. I would make it visible. It’s across from the park. It has lake views. It could be great,&uot; she said.

Another location talked about at the Thursday night city budget hearing was the Vault bank building on Broadway Avenue and William Street. City councilman Dave McPherson said the building would be effective because it is in the heart of downtown, it could give the city a ‘campus-like’ feel and would make good use of a city-owned building.

The future of the library is still unsure. But with the city making progress on feasiblity plans, something could happen soon.

&uot;I think it can happen,&uot; Barkema said. &uot;But it’s not going to happen unless we start talking about it and thinking about it how will approach the project.&uot;