The Huntsville Public Library last year provided services to more than 104,000 visitors, and that figure is up 300 percent since 1994. The population in Walker County has grown from 29,000 in 1970 to 64,000 in 2005. But one thing has not changed — the library’s square footage. The library has remained in the same 7,000 square foot building at 1216 14th St. since its erection in 1967. But as the general collection grows, computers stations are brought in and the library’s renowned genealogy collection continues to draw library users, the public’s space for children’s programs, group meetings and adult literacy education is shrinking.

“We are stuffed like sardines into the present facility,” said Robert Vann, president of the library board. “In reality, the library was supposed to be a multi-use facility ... a cultural center where all manner of things are available to the public.”

Vann will speak to Huntsville City Council tonight at 6 p.m. and will present a slideshow illustrating the over-extended building.

Tonight’s presentation to council is one way library board members and staff hope to get some attention.

“We are trying to get someone to make us a priority. We want to take the first step forward,” said library services director Linda Dodson. “We would begin with a needs assessment and document the problems we’re facing in the building and other problems library staff may not be aware of, such as foundation or structural things.

“Then we would set up a committee to look at our options; whether we want to add on or move to a new location.”

Children’s activities are probably disrupted the most, agreed Vann and Dodson. In 1994, 65,045 children utilized the library, and that number rose to 87,010 in 2004.

“I don’t have the numbers for 2005 because with the growth, we can no longer sustain the space we have,” Vann said. “Children’s programs are basically one of the key parts of the library because if they learn to be library users as children, they are more likely to do so as adults.

“We cannot put on successful programs if we cannot fit all the kids.”

In 2005, two children’s programs were held in the Old Town Theatre, drawing more than 200 people each time.

Typically, public libraries offer a special place for children, complete with comfortable chairs, reading nooks and interactive learning activities. Because Huntsville’s population is outgrowing the library, all those things have been packed away in storage.

“It takes something away from the library when we have a library event and can’t have it here,” Dodson said. “We just don’t have the space.”

But other areas of the library also have suffered, including the widely-used reference collection.

“In the past, we had two different biography sets,” Dodson said. “We have had to really look at the collection and say, ‘Do we need this much?’ Although they are a valuable tool, we are looking at cutting our encyclopedias down. We typically have three sets.”

Dodson said the city has never “kicked at” budgets for books or other collection-related expenses, and that has allowed much of the library’s services to be electronically catalogued or made available to users to take home. One example are the Learn a Test series which enable people to study for SATs, GEDs or other tests with computer software.

“Some things we don’t want to put on the computer and we get in a bind sometimes. You just have to make those hard choices,” Dodson said. “We were at a point not too long ago that if we put a book on the shelf, we had to take another one off. We’ve also begun weeding the collection, which was something that needed to be done anyway. But we do come across those things we need to keep and have no room for.”

Dodson said the library is providing more services than ever expected in the late 1960s. Computers are a big draw, and not just for fun and games. In 1999, the first computers were brought on site and 4,070 people logged on. In 2005, nearly 38,000 people utilized the work stations, logging more than 50,000 hours of usage.

“You also have to remember that 2005 was the year of the hurricanes, and we had a lot of evacuees using these computers to fill out FEMA forms, check banking online and connect with family members,” Vann said.

The growing genealogy room is another well-utilized library resource, providing the local genealogy society and public users with tools to trace the past. The collection includes many first-edition resource books and is valued around $300,000.

“We have no meeting space, though,” Vann said. “The genealogy society cannot even meet here, and the library board of only seven people cannot meet because there is just not enough space.”

Parking is another concern. The library shares space with other city entities (HEAP and Fire Station No. 2), leaving 43 spaces up for grabs.

“We want people to understand that the library is an amenity to the community,” Dodson said. “Families move to places that have strong services, including a good public library.”

A building fund has been set up with the help of the Huntsville Book Review Club’s recent $1,000 donation to the library, and Dodson said the first showing of interest has boosted spirits as well as gotten the fundraising off the ground.

“This is just so important to us,” she said. “It’s an indication that we can begin to do something, and we appreciate it very much.”

To make a donation to the building fund, contact the library at (936) 291-5470 or mail a check made out to Huntsville Public Library Friends, Inc. 1216 14th Street, Huntsville, Texas, 77340.

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