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With the city growing, West Fargo library considers branching out on its own

Isaac Nett, 6, reads about one of his favorite dinosaurs Friday at the West Fargo Public Library. Dave Wallis

The lone West Fargo library is considering if it should continue to share space with the school district or branch out on its own and add another facility to help accommodate the booming growth south of Interstate 94.

The West Fargo Public Library currently leases space from the school district, calling half of the Lodoen Community Center at 109 3rd St. E. home. But the lease will expire in 2017, which will also mark 10 years since the library last formed a comprehensive strategic plan.

“2007 was the last time we did the last really major strategic planning,” Library Director Sandra Hannahs said. “That is something that should be done periodically. Since then, we’ve been basing all of our work on that original plan. We’re at a point where it’s time to stop and really take stock again.”

To help plan for the growth, the library has hired a consultant and has begun garnering public opinion on what its future should look like.

“As far as I’m concerned libraries are still important,” Mayor Rich Mattern said. “To me, the big challenge is serving south of the interstate. We’re growing and we have one location. We probably have to start thinking about a satellite.”

To help address the concerns of a growing city and library, Hannahs and the library board, which is composed of four at-large members and City Commissioner Mike Thorstad, has considered building a centrally located library, adding a branch library or starting a bookmobile.

“There is so much building going on right now, we don’t know what the city would want and how they would prioritize these projects,” Hannahs said.

According to the U.S. census, the city of West Fargo has grown by about 73 percent between 2000 and 2010 and has continued its population boom since. With just under 49,600 books, not counting magazines, audiobooks, e-books or online resources, the library is keeping up with demand. It increased circulation from 117,231 items to 123,413 in 2011, according to the library’s latest annual report. An additional 2,000 people registered as library members in one year, bringing the registered users up to 9,694.

But, many of the new members live in the developing areas of West Fargo, mostly located south of Interstate 94, and even longtime residents often fail to realize the library nestled inside a school district-owned building is open to the public.

“The location of the library itself is one other concern that we have. We’re not just off on a quiet neighborhood on the northern edge of the city with all the growth to the south, we’re also hidden within the school,” Hannahs said.

Along with the location, the building – which Hannahs describes as beautiful with its airy format and sunny, large windows – will soon constrain the library’s growth.

“The building feels the way a library should feel, so we really like that,” Hannahs said. “But there are many space limitations.”

The library is home to Internet terminals that sit in the middle of the main floor, and there are limited data ports. Hannahs said there is no flexibility to move technology in the current building.

“Even outlets are in short supply,” she said. “This is problematic, because technology is changing constantly.”

On the upper level, where the historical archives of the city and library are kept, along with a number of meeting and activity rooms where the library’s many events are held, there is little room for growth. Hannahs also pointed out that the upper level’s weight restrictions make placing heavy shelves of books problematic. She said the building was not designed as a library, and the placements of full bookshelves must be considered when adding to the collection.

The city, which contributes about $700,000 in revenue to the library’s $711,000 budget, does so through a tax especially for the library.

City Administrator Jim Brownlee said the city commission approves the library’s budget each year which is submitted by the board.

“We put a separate mill levy for them,” he said. “It’s a little over nine mills that we fund the library with.”

Hannahs said the strategic plan will need to address any facility changes as well as how to pay for them.

A draft strategic plan is expected to be finished by this fall.

Anyone interested in submitting input regarding the plan can do so online at Participants can enter a drawing to win a Kindle Fire HD or gift cards.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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