If you open it, they will come.
Spokane Public Library staffers and board members knew this, and thanks to voters who approved a February 2013 four-year property tax levy, they now have the numbers to prove it.
The Hillyard, Indian Trail and East Side library branches are now open 40 hours a week and have shown increased visits and checkout rates. That’s after nearly a decade of reduced hours and closure threats – the three were each open just 22 1/2 hours.
“In just the very first few days there was a noticeable jump in usage, and every day brings new customers in who are pleased about the new hours,” said Eva Silverstone, library communications manager.
Indeed, one afternoon last week the Hillyard branch bustled with after-school students browsing the DVD selections and checking Facebook or homework on the computers. Boys holding basketballs roamed among the stacks while girls in fleece-lined hoodies signed up for computer time.
“It gets crazy in here after school,” said Samantha McCombs, Hillyard managing librarian. “I love it! It’s my favorite time of day.”
With Shaw Middle School across the street and Rogers High School and several elementary schools nearby, the branch serves as an important community hub for students and their parents.
The East Side, Hillyard and Indian Trail branches are open Tuesdays from noon to 8 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
McCombs said the biggest complaint staffers received about the former reduced hours was that patrons couldn’t keep track of the abbreviated schedules. “Customers have said it’s so much easier now that they can visit the library in the morning – there’s more accessibility,” she said.
McCombs recently moved to the area from Ohio. “In the short amount of time I’ve been here, I’ve helped people apply for their green cards, fill out housing applications and apply for jobs,” she said. “In one afternoon we had families here from the Marshall Islands, Sudan and Sri Lanka.”
The feedback from library patrons has been overwhelmingly positive. Customers were invited to write thoughts about the library and the expanded hours on colorful paper balloons that were posted at the branches.
One patron wrote, “I work in the evening so nice to have it open more in the morning and they are free which I love.”
Another said, “Life without books and good stories is a boring life! Thank you, Eastside Library.” And one customer wrote, “Increased hours matter: Have kids that don’t get out of school till 3:30 p.m. and before library on Fridays closed at 2:30 p.m. It made it hard for kids to get books for the weekend to read. Now they can. Thank you.”
As McCombs surveyed the crowd at the Hillyard Library, she said, “There’s something so appealing in a smaller neighborhood library. It’s such a valuable resource to this community.”