By EMILY GARLAND
Randy Corman's family is a frequent library user.
"I think at any one time we have 50 books at our house," the Renton City Council member says.
Corman and his wife Cathy homeschool their five children, ages 9-21. (Their oldest son has since left for college). So they check out many materials from Renton and King County libraries.
The Cormans have noticed an increase in patrons during their frequent visits to Renton's two city-operated libraries. As has Aaron Oesting, assistant director of Renton Public Library.
"It's definitely gotten busier," Oesting says. "It seems like there's a lot more people in here to use the computers and a lot more people in the afternoons."
Renton's population has boomed since the 1960s, when Renton Public Library opened, and the 1970s, when Highlands Public Library was built. And the city's growth shows no sign of slowing. Renton's population is predicted to double if several unincorporated areas join the city.
Which makes now the perfect time for an examination of Renton's two library branches.
"We haven't taken a real big picture, thoughtful look at our libraries in quite a number of years, and the community is growing pretty fast," says Corman, chair of City Council's Community Services Committee, which covers Renton Public Library.
With help from a team of consultants, library staff is working on a comprehensive 20-year master plan for the city's two libraries. City Council approved $130,000 to hire the Chicago consultant team last June.
The consultants have gathered information about Renton and the people who live here. A library planning committee is also working on the master plan.
Now Oesting says staff is "taking the pulse of the community" to determine what kinds of library services Renton citizens want.
Three types of meetings are scheduled for next week. The first with several specific Renton groups, including Renton Mom's Group, business leaders, senior citizens, minority immigrant groups, high school students and Benson Hill residents. These are invitation-only meetings.
The second type of meetings are interviews with library stakeholders, such as Renton School District's superintendent, Renton Technical College's vice president of instruction, King County Library Systems director and a Renton Police Department representative.
Two public meetings are also set for Wednesday and Thursday.
Oesting calls public feedback key in the development of Renton's libraries.
"We want to be more responsive to the public's desires," he said. "To find out what they want from the library and use that in going forward."
"What we're really looking at is how do people live their lives and how can we better fit into that," Oesting added.
Renton Mom's Group leader Julia Rule says her club visits the downtown Renton library a few times a week, but would increase visits if more free children's activities were offered. Rule would also like to see a larger, separate area just for children.
Dave McCammon, spokesperson for Benson Hill Communities Progress Group, isn't much of a library user. But he knows many of his neighbors are concerned with how their library services may change if his group is successful and Benson Hill becomes part of Renton.
Most Benson Hill residents are closer to either King County's Fairwood or Kent libraries.
"A lot of people want to stay with the way it is — they don't want to change," McCammon says.
In other words, they don't want to lose access to King County libraries.
But Oesting says many don't realize that Renton has a reciprocal agreement with King County that allows Renton residents to use King County libraries and King County residents to use Renton libraries.
Of course, library services may change if and when certain areas, Benson Hill included, annex into Renton. But how services will change has yet to be determined. Renton may assume control of certain King County libraries or vice versa. Or the two library systems may merge.
How annexations will affect library service is a major part of the library master plan. But it is also just one component of the plan.
Library staff is also looking at how to make Renton libraries fit better into the digital age and how to provide library service to the city's outlying areas.
Both Renton city libraries are overcrowded, but there are no immediate plans to expand either facility. But Oesting says expansion of the existing buildings or the construction of smaller neighborhood libraries are definite possibilities.
After next week's meetings, the next step in the library master plan is a public survey, with an expected June release.
While Oesting says Renton's libraries compare pretty well to other libraries, he is looking forward to the improvements the master plan will bring.
"This is a very exciting process," he says. "We at the libraries are thrilled about being able to get the public's input and respond to what they want. I encourage people to come to the meetings, because we'd love to build the best library system in the region if we could."
Emily Garland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (253) 437-6009.