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Milwaukie checks out library expansion effort

by: PHOTO BY: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Katie Newell, director of Milwaukie's Ledding Library hold a photo of Florence Ledding's house, parts of which are still standing within the city library that was built over the house in 1964.Milwaukie’s library space is well below the standard for cities of its size, according to a consultant for the city hosting a public event this week to help determine expansion needs.

Milwaukie’s 20,000 residents only have 0.39 square feet of library per capita, one of the lowest in the county. (Even lower is Oregon City, which after losing a leased space in 2010, had to squeeze back into its now century-old Carnegie Center.) Even so, Ledding Library is the third busiest of Clackamas County’s 11 libraries, with 1.4 million “public service transactions,” which include items checked out and Internet sessions.

“What’s really compelling about this is that they’re using the space that they have really well,” said Ruth Metz, the library specialist for FFA Architecture and Interiors.

As part of a potential library expansion effort, Milwaukie hired FFA to conduct a needs assessment to determine the direction of the Ledding Library in the coming years. Online and community surveys ask citizens what aspects of the library are most important and most in need of improvement.

To explore a possible library expansion, the City Council last year set up the Library Expansion Task Force, which then recommended that a needs assessment be completed. The Library Fund, established by donations earmarked for a library-building project, set aside money to hire a firm. Because a task force subcommittee was set up to find a firm, Ledding Library director Katie Newell didn’t go to the City Council for approval of the hire or contract. The subcommittee publicly requested proposals, held interviews and finally selected FFA at a cost of $24,500. Meanwhile, Newell reported about the subcommittee’s progress at City Council work sessions.

“The bottom line is that the library is really, really busy, and they don’t have the space they want or need,” said city spokesman Grady Wheeler.

In response to arguments that new technologies have made browsing through stacks of books more and more obsolete, city leaders point out that Ledding Library only has nine computer stations. Expansion of the library would focus on increasing the number of computer stations and community gathering spaces.

Metz said the “people space is incredibly important in libraries, which tend to get overrun by the collection space.” Although the American Library Association no longer recommends 0.7 square feet of library space per person in a city, the Oregon Library Association generally sees a 0.76 figure as best for cities such as Milwaukie, which is almost double the space it has now.

“What I do is come in and interview staff and watch people using the library, and then this survey is a way of testing some of the observations that I or staff have made, some of which are anecdotal,” Metz said. “I assess standards and norms and trends to determine the needs of the particular city.”

To gather public input, there will be a public meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, in the City Hall conference room, 10722 S.E. Main St. The results of the survey are expected on June 11 to prepare for a July 2 proposal to the City Council.

Citizens who cannot attend the meeting can complete the survey online at surveymonkey.com/s/HBJFM65. For more information about the library, visit ci.milwaukie.or.us/library.