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Director explains details of Elyria library plan

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ELYRIA — After Monday’s announcement that the Elyria Public Library System plans to build a new central branch at Broad Street and East Avenue by the end of 2020, people still had questions:

What will happen to the current central branch on Washington Avenue? What about parking for the new library? And what use are libraries in the digital age, when most information is just a click away on a smartphone?

Library Director Lyn Crouse put answers to some of those questions Wednesday.

Q. What happens to the old central branch library?

The library system plans to try to sell the current central branch, at 320 Washington Ave., once the new building is completed, Crouse said.

She said the library system looked at 30 potential sites for the new central branch — not 50 as mistakenly reported Tuesday in The Chronicle-Telegram.

Though not yet designed, the plan is that new central branch will be “fairly comparable in size” to the current central branch, but with less space dedicated to behind-the-scenes functions like purchasing and storage, Crouse said.

Facilities issues with the current central branch forced the library to think quickly in 2014. It had already hired an architect and drawn up plans for the renovation and rehabilitation of the Washington Avenue building when asbestos was found.

“We thought we were ready to roll, but that’s when we had the asbestos testing done,” Crouse said. “The cost of abating and then rehabbing the building for library use was beyond our means.”

In November, voters approved Issue 39, providing the libraries $950,000 a year for 30 years, a large portion of it to pay for property acquisition and to pay off construction bonds.

Q. What about parking downtown at the planned new central branch?

Mayor Holly Brinda said the city plans to lease its parking lot behind Pioneer Plaza for library parking. There also is on-street parking along East Avenue and Second Street adjacent to the site.

A bonus is that the city will maintain the Pioneer Plaza lot, and the library will not incur the cost of paving or, in the winter, plowing a parking lot.

“That’s very beneficial to us,” Crouse said.

Q. What about a new south branch library?

The library remains committed to the south side, having purchased former Smith Dairy property in the 300 block of 15th Street earlier this year.

For the time being, the library will maintain a temporary location at the Asbury United Methodist Church at 1611 Middle Ave., Crouse said.

Q. What are the other projects in the works?

The levy money will pay off construction bonds for the new central branch and new south branch, as well as three other projects:

  • An expansion of the Keystone-LaGrange branch to triple its current size, and in a new location;
  • Improvements in heating, air conditioning and windows at the 25-year-old West River branch; and
  • The purchase of a new mixed-use warehouse and office facility for storage, purchasing, IT and other administrative services currently housed in the central branch.

The library’s north branch will remain at Lorain County Community College at 1005 N. Abbe Road through a partnership that means the library no longer pays rent, but provides materials and programming, Crouse said.

Because the sale on the building has not closed, Crouse couldn’t say specifically where the warehouse/office facility will be. She did say it is on the city’s east side with “easy access to all our branches.”

Q. Who still uses libraries?

Approximately 300,000 people use the Elyria Public Library System every year, Crouse said, as well as access 10 million items from 45 library systems in 12 counties serving about 1 million customers in Northeast Ohio.

“Libraries bridge the digital divide,” she said. “Everybody thinks that everybody else has got a computer, but the last information I read, 65 percent of this country does not have access to high-speed internet” — which they do, for free, at Elyria’s public libraries, she said.

Through the CLEVNET library consortium, the Elyria Public Library System ships and receives 250,000 items each year. Also accessible are research databases on everything from genealogy to car repair, e-books, audio books, music and videos for smart devices.

Patrons without home computers can apply for jobs, and patrons of all ages can take part in any of the library’s 2,500 programs each year, Crouse said. Through Special Collections, they can borrow cake pans, board games, sewing machines and slide projectors.

The Bookmobile goes out to those “who can’t come in,” as does a homebound delivery service for shut-ins, Crouse said.

“I always say, people said in 1952 when television came out that would be the end of libraries. In 1993, when the internet came out, they said that would be the end of libraries, but we’re still here,” Crouse said. “We’re still booming and always at the forefront of technology. People are always here with their devices.”

Q. And the stereotype of librarians “with blue hair and sensible shoes”?

“I’ve got a smart watch with email on it,” Crouse said. “Libraries are techies these days.”

Contact Dave O’Brien at (440) 329-7129 or do’brien@chroniclet.com. Follow him at @daveobrienCT on Twitter.


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