Iowa City Public Library to pour $440K into improvements


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The Iowa City Public Library will get faster and more tech-savvy starting this fall.

As a part of its Better Building, Better Services project — aimed at improving customer service — the Public Library will invest $440,000 in improvements over the next two fiscal years.

Phase one of the plan will begin in October, with one of the first changes being the replacement of computerized options with a real person for phone calls made to the library. This will be followed by an accretion of the first-floor service desks into one help desk with staff equipped to address a lot of customer queries.

“We found we were bouncing people back and forth between those two desks,” library Director Susan Craig said. “So we are creating a bigger, more centralized and visible desk where people will come and get a multitude of service.”

The library staff spent the last nine months working in a department they hadn’t worked in before, as a part of their training program, which was aimed at enabling them to perform more than one task at the library.

Beth Fisher, program librarian at the Library and one of the staff members who were cross-trained, said she is now trained to work three different departments.

“I used to work on the fiction desk,” she said. “And now I work on the help desk, but I am also a librarian, so I also work on the reference desk. I have not only reference-desk skills, I have the skills to assign library cards, help people with their library loans, and all the stuff we do on the help desk.”

Movement of traffic is going to be faster now because the staff will be able to provide more information at a common desk, she said.

The library will also transfer its magazine collection to the first-floor atrium and create a magazine reading room that will also have new tables with e-readers.

“People like to browse magazines,” Craig said. “So we are bringing them downstairs, putting them in a beautiful reading room, and we are organizing them the way you would find them in a bookstore.”

The library will receive $200,000 from the city’s tax dollars in the form of capital-improvement funds. The Iowa City public Library Friends Foundation plans to raise another $240,000 for the project.

The library was last renovated in 2004, when Iowa City voters approved an $18.4 million bond referendum for extensive landscaping and building redesign.

While almost all patrons to the library seemed satisfied with its services, some were unhappy about the price tag it comes with.

“I don’t work here so I don’t know the whole picture, but I don’t see why they have to spend that much money,” said Stan Ridgeway, an instructor at Kirkwood Community College.

Another patron, Marva Abel, said she thinks the cost of changes is feasible, and she is excited about the changes.

While the number of library cards that the library has issued remains steady, Craig pointed out that more people come to the library in a year than the combined turnout of all University of Iowa home football and basketball games.

“We live in an innovative and ever-changing community,” she said. “We want to make sure that we are doing the best we can with the resources that the city and the taxpayer gives us, and so we are always looking for ways to do things better.”

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