NORMAN — Council members have rejected the idea of leasing a building on E Lindsey Street for a branch library, but are still seeking ways to provide better library services for eastside residents.
Specifically, the council is interested in a proposal by Pioneer Library System's executive director, Anne Masters, that an automated dispensing machine be used to provide 24-hour access for patrons for such things as browsing the library's catalogs, selecting books or DVDs from the machine, or putting others on hold to be picked up later.
Patrons also could browse the library's website and possibly have short Internet sessions on the machine, although it would lack a printer.
The machine, which would work much like the Redbox machines used for renting DVDs, could be installed outdoors under a canopy or indoors in a partitioned-off area that customers would access by swiping their library cards on a keypad, Masters said.
If installed inside a building, another part of the building could be kept locked except when library staff members were available to hold story times, book discussion groups or computer classes.
“It would not be a library and would not be mistaken for one, but we think it is a good option,” Masters said.
Masters said she and other Pioneer Library System staff were introduced to the most up-to-date dispensing machine at an American Library Association conference in March. The 8-by-12 foot machines are used extensively in Europe and China. If Norman were to get one, it would be the first in the United States, she said.
Masters described the machine during Tuesday's city council meeting at which a resolution was discussed that directed the city manager to look at vacant buildings on E Lindsey that could be leased for a temporary eastside branch library. The resolution was introduced by council members Roger Gallagher, Linda Lockett and Dave Spaulding.
Inadequate for needs
Currently, eastside residents have a book drop box in the parking lot of the B&B Country Store on E Alameda Street. Gallagher said the drop box is inadequate to meet the needs of eastside library patrons and subjects them to “the vagaries of wind, rain, ice and snow.”
Council members in March voted to lease space from the Pioneer Library System in the old Borders bookstore building to provide a westside branch.
Gallagher, Lockett and Spaulding, who represent eastside residents, have been unhappy that the west side is getting a branch while eastside residents only have a drop box. The council has bought land for eastside branch, but no money is available to build it.
“It could be four years down the road before construction of that branch library. We were just exploring a temporary solution and thought this building on E Lindsey was an option for something temporary that would be better than what residents have now,” Gallagher said.
However, Masters said the building in question is only 1,200 square feet and Pioneer Library System's policy is to have at least 5,000 square feet for a branch library.
“Even if you were to find a building that is 5,000 square feet, we are not willing or able to staff it at this time,” she said.
Masters said the library system has all it can handle with getting the Borders building ready for its administrative offices and converting it to a westside branch. The staff also is in the process of getting the south Oklahoma City branch up and running.
“We have our hands full right now, but we will continue to seek other strategies to serve east Norman while we wait for construction of an eastside branch,” Masters said. “We all want an eastside branch library.”
Patrons would have 24/7 access to an automated dispensing machine, she said. Masters said she would ask the Pioneer Library System board for funding to buy the machine if the city is willing to work with staff on finding a location for it.
The machine can hold up to 400 items at a time and would be restocked six days a week, she said.
When Gallagher approached her about leasing a 1,200-square-foot building on E Lindsey, , “my concern was offering something in east Norman that tried to look like a branch but would be compared very negatively with the westside branch,” she said.
Council members voted unanimously to amend the resolution proposed by Gallagher, Lockett and Spaulding to direct the city manager to work with the Pioneer Library System and the city library board to investigate the viability of additional “point or points” of service on the east side, including installation of a dispensing machine, to augment eastside services.
The resolution requests the city manager to report back to the council on his findings by June 12.