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New Valley library building on the 1% list makes sense

Posted: September 9, 2012 - 12:06am

The 1% special sales tax proposal on the October ballot includes funds for a new Valley library building at Dimond Park. I support this project as a mother, as a taxpayer, as a library user, and as a librarian.

As a mother of a freshman at Thunder Mountain High School, I see a need for library space in the Valley where teens can gather and study after school and on weekends. The current mall location is too small to offer a teen area, and not very appealing. The new library will provide a safe and welcoming environment for learning, research, and career exploration. Unlike the other facilities in Dimond Park, the library will be free, and not centered around athletics. Our kids, and everyone in our community needs this type of space at Dimond Park.

As a taxpayer, I am appalled by the sum that is spent on rent for the library at the Mendenhall Mall. Annual rent is currently over $198,000, and goes up every year. The City’s studies show that having its own building will save CBJ money in just a couple of years, even factoring in operating and maintenance costs. This project already has $9 million of dedicated grant funds from the State and from Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries. Over two-thirds of the cost of the building is already covered. We should not let the opportunity to use these gifts pass by, but we have to act soon to commit the remaining local funds. Some may argue that the City should continue to pay rent. This doesn’t make economic sense. Those who have been fortunate enough to be able to buy their own homes know that there comes a time to stop throwing rent down the drain and invest in your own place if you can. This makes sense for the City as well, particularly with two thirds of the cost of the new building gifted. As for staff costs, the new library is designed to run with exactly the same level of staffing as the current location.

As a library user, I see the current space is a problem. The staff has done their best with the arrangement and furniture, but the space is just not functional. The children’s area is not positioned with a clear line of sight for the staff. The one meeting room is hard to book because of demand. Collection space is very small, and there is no natural light. Separating quiet study areas from interactive workspace is impossible; creating an environment that is ideal for no one. There is not even a restroom within the library. I am not expecting the new building to be anything fancy; in fact I know this is not the plan. But providing what is currently missing is just meeting basic needs.

I am a librarian, but I have never worked for the Juneau Public Libraries and have nothing to gain from a new library building other than the improved services and space we all would enjoy. Because of my profession, I am aware of the ongoing problem of information inequality in our society. Access to information, especially electronic information, is absolutely vital to be an informed citizen, a connected family member and friend, and an ever-evolving person. The Juneau Public Library provides free Internet access to those who can’t afford computers, smart phones, and network accounts. Free library programs promote reading to thousands of Juneau kids each year. Since our national recession started, library use around the country has gone up. Borrowing books and DVDs is still popular. Use of e-books is on the rise, and the JPL provides access to over 70,000 e-books for free. Library staff also helps people learn to use their e-book readers. The Valley library is the busiest branch in Juneau’s most populated neighborhood. After 29 years of inadequate mall space and millions in rent, a new building is appropriate and makes fiscal sense.

These are the reasons why I will be voting Yes on the 1% on October 2nd.

• Hassler is a librarian living in Juneau and a member of Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries.

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