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New $64M library will bring patrons back, officials say

Smaller temporary library blocks away has seen sharp decline in customers.

Patrons are borrowing fewer items at the temporary downtown Dayton Metro Library branch, and the amount of time visitors are spending on computers has plunged while a $64 million main library is built blocks away.

Library officials and industry professionals said customers who have stopped using the downtown branch will return when the upgraded, state-of-the-art facility opens to the public.

“We don’t really have a competitor,” said Jeanne Holihan, president of the Dayton Metro Library’s Board of Trustees.

The Dayton Metro Library is spending $187 million to improve its facilities system wide. The library at 215 E. Third St. closed on Sept. 10 and is not expected to reopen to the public until early 2017.

In the meantime, the main library’s services and materials have been moved to a temporary home at the former Hauer music building, 120 S. Patterson Blvd.

Library officials said they expected patronage to decline because the temporary facility has limited space, fewer computers and a fraction of the materials of the permanent flagship establishment.

Construction crews have stripped the flagship facility down to bare bones. The rebuilt library will feature a sleek, modern appearance, far more space and a slew of new features and amenities.

The temporary library squeezed what it could into the 10,000-square-foot first floor of the building.

Visitors have fewer places to sit. The furniture is old and the interior unfinished. Materials are stacked on 60-year-old shelving, and it’s more crowded inside.

About two-thirds of the main library’s adult collection is in storage or has been distributed to other branches.

The amount of materials available in the children’s section has been reduced by 80 percent or more.

These and other limitations are impacting use.

In November, about 27,578 items were borrowed from the temporary downtown branch. That compares to 40,109 items checked out from the main library in November 2014.

The main library had 52 full-service computer systems. The temporary branch has 34 public computers.

The number of hours logged by downtown library visitors in November fell 33 percent from last year.

The temporary library also lacks multiple meeting rooms for programming as well as study carrels for research and homework.

Library users say the temporary facility tends to get packed but its services remain essential.

“I use it two to three times a week,” said Terry Swaney, 53, of Vandalia.

Cecil Wilkerson, who lives on the outskirts of Dayton, said he uses the temporary downtown branch because he can walk there and it’s convenient.

He said he would have to catch a bus to use the other branches.

He said the selection at the temporary facility is decent. He primarily uses the library to check out audio and visual materials, such as movies and music CDs.

“It’s pretty nice, even though the quarters are tight,” he said.

Like other consumers, library patrons develop routines and habits and visit certain facilities because of convenience and their services and offerings.

Maintaining a downtown branch — just blocks from the main facility — allows library patrons to stick to their routines, even though space is tight and services are limited, officials said.

“I think our patrons are very fortunate that we were able to facilitate having a temporary main library, because so many other systems would close their main library and not provide services during that time,” said Holihan, with the library’s board of trustees.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library last year closed its downtown branch during its renovation project and did not open a temporary facility. Services were spread across its branch locations.

Previous customers of the Dayton main library who are using other branches or who have stopped using library services will be back, Holihan said.

The upgraded main library will be cutting edge and people will be lured back by its diverse mix of programming, community spaces, maker spaces, events and other attractions.

“We expect to see a spike in usage once we have everything open,” she said.

Businesses sometimes lose customers if they close for an extended period or relocate.

But industry insiders said libraries traditionally do not have competitors who can siphon off their customers.

“There are not too many other entities in the ‘library business’ that provide the same array of services,” said Douglas Evans, executive director of the Ohio Library Council, which represents public library systems.

The decline in circulation and use was expected and predictable, said Tim Kambitsch, the executive director of the Dayton Metro Library.

For its size, the downtown branch has been used at comparable levels to other branches in the system, he said.

And other branches have seen an increase in visitors who previously used the main library and Kettering branch, which closed late last year. Patrons’ needs are being met by other branches, Kambitsch said.

Kambitsch said there will be a tremendous amount of buzz and promotion surrounding the opening of the new main library. He predicts that attendance and circulation will not only rebound but will soar.

The January 2015 reopening of the renovated Electra C. Doren branch in Old North Dayton was followed by big increase in use, he said. The branch underwent $1.3 million in upgrades and improvements.

“I think we’re going to get a whole new group of patrons to come visit the main library,” Kambitsch said. “I think we’ll get all of our regular users back and then some.”

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