Everett library patrons love their books, hate loiterers

EVERETT — Library users still want real books. They give high marks to library service, but some want a quieter place. What they don’t like is seeing their library used as a hangout by smokers outside or people loitering inside.

Those are among findings of a public survey conducted recently by the Everett Public Library.

Library Director Eileen Simmons said Tuesday that 678 people responded to the survey. Results, which will be used to shape the library’s two-year strategic plan, were presented Sept. 17 to the library board of trustees.

“I don’t see books going away from the Everett library anytime soon. Our circulation is still pretty healthy,” Simmons said. About 40,000 people have Everett Public Library cards, she said.

Its seems obvious that library users would want books — 92.4 percent of people surveyed reported using the Everett library to check out materials. But a bookless public library already exists. In San Antonio, Texas, the BiblioTech Bexar County Digital Library opened Sept. 14. It offers ebooks, along with tablets, ereaders and computers on site — but no books.

Simmons said the survey, which people could answer online or on paper, also showed library users “love their DVDs” and want more ebooks.

“They want more of everything. Books are still number one,” said Kate Mossman, the library’s assistant director.

Asked to rate how important each service was to them, 96.6 percent of people identified books as very important, and 77.5 percent said an easy-to-use library website was very important.

While users are largely pleased with library materials and services, there was a common complaint — a big one.

“By far the most often expressed concern was about the people who congregate in front of the library — that they smoke, talk loudly and inappropriately, and intimidate those wishing to enter the building,” said a report on the survey presented to the library board. “There were almost an equal number of comments about people in the building who smell, are dirty, who are loud, whose presence causes parents concern, and who are using it as a hangout.”

The concerns were expressed in comment areas of the survey, and 31 percent shared a specific improvement they wanted to see. The loitering issue has plagued library staff for years.

Benches in front of the downtown library have been broken. To discourage people from congregating out front, Simmons had the benches removed. And landscaping has been changed to do the same.

Simmons said homeless people are served in the downtown core by social services and church feeding programs. The main library’s Hoyt Avenue location, near those services, contributes to the problem, she said. “We’re definitely trying to do something,” Simmons said.

“People were vocal about the transient population,” said Mossman, who added that the downtown library has a private security guard on site.

Another common theme was a desire for a larger Evergreen Branch. “The space is restricted here,” said Alan Jacobson, manager of the library branch on Evergreen Way that opened in 1989.

Simmons said the city is in early stages of planning for possible expansion of the 8,500-square-foot Evergreen Branch. It was built to be expanded, she said. A feasibility study of expanding the branch, done by the Dykeman architecture and design firm, was completed last month. Simmons said city administration and library staff are expected to discuss the Evergreen Branch next week.

The biggest need at the branch is more seating for people, along with meeting rooms and more space for children. “People love the family friendliness of the Evergreen Branch,” Simmons said.

Some people might not mind a return to the days of stern librarians whispering “shhh.” Only 76 percent of those surveyed strongly agreed or agreed that they could find a quiet place to read at the library.

Simmons wasn’t surprised. “Cellphones are definitely part of that. We provide plenty of social space,” she said. “We have clearly fallen down in providing quiet.”

Creating a quiet space may be part of the library’s strategic plan, which will look out two years. The last plan, finished in 2008, was for five years. Simmons said that with changes in technology and the economy so unpredictable over fives years, setting two-year goals makes more sense. In the past five years, changes include redesigning the children’s area and creating a teen area at the downtown library.

This year’s budget for both libraries is $4.97 milllion, Simmons said. In all, she is pleased by the survey results.

“So many people took the time, I would like to say how much I appreciate their input,” she said. “This survey really was affirming. People love their libraries.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Survey results

The Everett Public Library recently conducted a public survey in which 678 people responded. Among results:

•62 percent mostly use the main library; 29.7 percent mostly use the Evergreen Branch.

•59 percent use the library at least weekly; 29 percent use it monthly.

•82.4 percent reported being very satisfied with service. Seven people were not satisfied.

•92.4 percent use the library to check out materials, and 40.8 percent to get help from staff; 34.1 percent come to use computers.

•76 percent strongly agreed or agreed they can find a quiet place to read at library.

•46.1 percent wanted more books; 44.2 percent wanted more DVDs, CDs or books on CD; 25 percent wanted more content to download, more service hours and more adult programs.

•87 percent have Internet access at home; 40.6 percent use a mobile device to get library services online.

•31 percent shared specific improvements they want. Concerns expressed most often were about people hanging out inside and outside the library.

Read survey results at: www.epls.org/pdf/EPL-Public-Survey-2013.pdf

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