Consultant recommending larger library for Kingsport

Matthew Lane • Jan 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — In order to meet the needs of the community over the next 20 years, the Kingsport Public Library needs an additional 32,000 square feet, 52,000 more books and space for teens, children’s story time and quiet study, this according to a library consultant’s report.

Last February, the Kingsport Public Library Commission hired a consultant to conduct a needs assessment and strategic long-range plan for the library. One of the main reasons for hiring the consultant was because the library is becoming overcrowded.

“We knew we had space issues, from the amount of material and functionality, and we needed to do a long-range plan. We hadn’t done one in six or seven years,” said Helen Whittaker, Kingsport Public Library director. “So much has changed in the library world, and we wanted to bring in somebody to give us a really good, solid handle on things, do some focus groups, receive input from the community about what they wanted to see us provide.”

Following a six-month investigation where the consultant made four visits to the Model City and met with more than 60 community members, library staff and Library Commission members, the report was finalized last August.

On Monday, Whittaker gave a report to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on the consultant’s findings and her recommendations on moving forward.

According to the report, the consultant recommends that for the library to meet the needs of the community over the next 20 years, the library needs to be 69,800 square feet. The report states “improving the library’s facility was the most critical need expressed throughout the data-gathering efforts conducted for this long-range plan.”

Whittaker said the Library Commission and the Planning Committee are recommending the library be 55,000 square feet. The library is currently 37,000 square feet.

“In light of everything going on, we didn’t want to do the bare minimum, but we didn’t choose to have excess space because there are ways to jointly use space,” Whittaker said, noting library officials removed the 250-seat auditorium from the consultant’s recommendations.

The consultant did not make a recommendation about whether the library should move from its current location. The next step is for Kingsport to hire an architect to explore the possibility of expanding the library at its present site. The estimated cost to hire an architect is $200,000 and is in the city’s 2009 capital improvement plan.

Whittaker said if the architect says the library should move into a larger facility, she believes that facility would have to be downtown.

Any renovation or construction regarding the library would not take place until 2013, in order for the city to work through its existing projects such as the higher education center and allied health facility, Whittaker said.

Mayor Dennis Phillips said Kingsport’s library needs to be a modern, up-to-date library.

“Personally I love the location of the library, and I would hope there is some way that we could do what needs to be done by leaving the library where it is,” Phillips said. “If that’s not possible, then I think we do have to look at another location.

“A viable library is certainly an important part of the city.”

Library officials are recommending the library add a computer lab, children’s story time room, space for teens, quiet study rooms, a café and 450 square feet to the archives.

In addition to space, the consultant recommended over the next 20 years the library should add 52,000 more books to its collection, have a magazine collection of 350 titles, have 63 computer stations, add 11,500 more non-print items, and offer more copies of bestsellers.

“Libraries in the past have had three feet between bookshelves. Now, libraries are changing and are more bookstore oriented — more space between the aisles, displays on the ends of the aisles for marketing,” Whittaker said. “People pick up books that are displayed that way.”

The library has 17.4 full-time positions. Johnson City’s library has 30.5, and Bristol has 25. Whittaker said Kingsport should have 22 full-time positions, according to state and national staffing reports. Due to staffing limitations, the library started closing on Sundays and pushed up its closing time from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“We’d like to get the Sunday hours back, but we’ve got to have people before we can do that,” Whittaker said.

Phillips said he would be willing to look at adding personnel to the library.

“We’ve had an attitude in the city for many years that we’re not going to add any employees. I don’t agree with that. I think we should add employees only after careful consideration and if they’re justified. To say we’re never going to add employees is not in the best interest of the city,” Phillips said. “As we grow and our growth dictates more services, you can’t expect the same number of people to keep serving people year after year.”

Last year the library did gain a new position (the first since the early 1990s) and an increase to its book budget (the first one in more than a decade). The library’s budget is just over $1 million and has remained flat for several years.

Library officials are suggesting the library needs 35 employees over the next 20 years, while the consultant recommended adding four hours of scheduled service by year two of the long-range plan and an additional four hours by year four.

The report states to accomplish the goals and tasks outlined in the 20-year plan, it will be essential that the library expand its staffing levels.

The Kingsport Public Library is located downtown on Broad Street beside Glen Bruce Park. Built as a post office in 1931, the building became the city’s library in 1961. More than 24,000 people have a library card at the Kingsport Public Library, and last year they checked out more than 206,000 items.

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