Council member sees options for Wichita libraries in Oklahoma City system

06/08/2014 7:39 AM

08/06/2014 11:22 AM

Wichita City Council member Jeff Blubaugh took a trip last weekend to check out Oklahoma City’s library system. What he saw amazed him.

“It certainly reinforced that people want to use libraries. You’ve got to have what they want,” said Blubaugh, the newest council member who represents District 4 in southeast Wichita.

Blubaugh’s interest in Oklahoma City – on his own dime, including a Bruno Mars concert for his wife’s birthday – was spiked by the structure of its system: seven libraries, many smaller branches around 35,000 square feet, including “a lot of good meeting room,” he said, and a downtown library about 100,000 square feet.

However, the Oklahoma City system doesn’t center around a downtown hub library offering and distributing books, instead operating around a central service center, an idea that has the interest of several council members.

“It’s like a separate center dispatching and organizing what books go where,” Blubaugh said.

The trip comes on the heels of the council’s decision this summer to forgo bonding for a new $29million downtown library. Instead, the council’s focus has shifted to defining Wichita’s libraries of the future.

The discussion is fueled by an internal Wichita library-use report that City Council members say trends toward branch libraries and regionalized Internet learning access.

The report showed circulation at the central library was down 18.4 percent in June from a year ago. It also showed mostly single-digit circulation declines at four regional branches – Alford, Evergreen, Rockwell and Westlink.

The report showed use of electronic books was up 38.5 percent system-wide. But e-books make up only 3,200 – or 1.6 percent – of about 203,000 materials checked out each month.

The downtown Oklahoma City library has many of the same issues as Wichita’s downtown facility, Blubaugh said – parking shortages and an influx of homeless people using the building for refuge.

“Really, no one uses it because of the parking problems,” he said. “Parking is a huge issue for the downtown library.”

Branch library attendance is up in Oklahoma City, Blubaugh said, including at the $8million Patience S. Latting Northwest Library that opened in 2012. “That’s a lot cheaper than $30million,” Blubaugh said.

“The branches are very popular, they say. I was big on the age of the people using that library. A lot of diversity in that group, a lot younger than I expected,” Blubaugh said. “They have four librarians at the desk when you walk in and they were all busy. It was a lot like Wal-Mart.”

Blubaugh said the new northwest library is high-tech, with 65 public computers, including 42 in a lab. Most were being used when Blubaugh visited the library, he said.

The Oklahoma City system utilizes RFID tags for books, which is a radio frequency identification that helps cut down theft and allows employees to check a book’s status with a wand that looks like a hand-held security detector.

“They’re really pretty organized down there,” Blubaugh said. “They’re utilizing the latest and greatest technology, and that’s where I’d like us to get.”

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