By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer
INDEPENDENCE - Within months of its 1995 opening, Kenton County's Independence branch library was too small.
Since then, the library serving fast-growing southern Kenton County has only gotten more crowded, library employees say. Within the first three years of operation, the library had to expand parking because patrons often parked at the grocery store lot next door when the library sponsored a popular program.
By year's end, the Kenton County Public Library Board will decide whether it should build a new Independence branch or renovate the 7,000-square-foot building on Taylor Mill Road, said Wayne Onkst, director of the Kenton County Public Library system.
"There's not enough room to shelve materials," Onkst said. "When you buy one book, you have to get rid of one. The meeting room is so small, it limits the children's and adult programs we can offer and what community groups can meet there. There's no storage room, and we don't have an area where we can offer computer classes. That's been one of our most popular features in Covington and Erlanger."
Onkst said the library staff and board members are evaluating various options, and an advisory committee is working with an architect. Although the board has some savings, its members will decide how to finance the project once it agrees on how large the new library should be, and whether the system should renovate the existing building or build a new facility.
"I think they could use some more room," said Katy Wilks of Taylor Mill, who visited the library last week with daughters, Kara, 7, and Shannon, 2. "I'd like to see the children's area partitioned off so that they don't bother other users and a separate area for computers."
Allison Owens, 15, of Kenton County said that students at Simon Kenton High School often visit the library when teachers assign a project or report. "When it's really busy, sometimes you have to wait for a computer," she said.
No matter what the library system does, employees of the Independence branch say they plan to keep their special relationship with regular patrons.
"A lot of people who come in here are on a first name basis with our staff," said circulation supervisor Tanya Pemberton, who's been with the Independence branch since its opening eight years ago. She added staff members know which authors and genres regular patrons read and often will call them when the library receives a new book that employees think they'd like.
Morgan Tracy, who took over as branch librarian on May 19, said that employees at the Independence branch routinely greet library patrons as they walk through the door.
"Even though we have space restrictions, we have a very good reputation as far as service," Tracy said. "If we expand or build, we want to continue that service and the staff's excellent relationship with patrons."
Tracy said his wish list includes a larger area for children's programming, because the 20-by-28-foot meeting room can't accommodate groups of 40 or more. To accommodate larger crowds, staff must move shelving and furniture aside in the library, temporarily disrupting service.
The full schedule of children's programming also means the meeting room is rarely available for library programs for teenagers and adults, or community functions. Another disadvantage of tight quarters is limited space for best sellers, classics that students often have to read for school and special holiday books for children, Pemberton said.
Besides additional shelving, library staff also wants to increase the number of computer stations without sacrificing floor space, Pemberton said. Patrons often have to stand in line to use a computer, especially on weekday afternoons and evenings.
Chastinny Vance, 20, of Independence said she visits the library four or five times a week to check out books and videos, do homework for her computer class at Southern Ohio College, and teach a friend how to surf the Internet. "As busy as they are, I think they should expand the library," Vance said.
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