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Library upgrade irony not lost on director

MASON CITY ñ The irony of the Mason City Public Library renovation is inescapable. Some have asked: Why spend so much ($9.2 million) to improve the physical building when much if not most of the future growth will be in electronic offerings?
By Joe Buttweiler|Second of two parts
Yesterday: Library circulation, online contacts growing fast

MASON CITY ñ The irony of the Mason City Public Library renovation is inescapable.
Some have asked: Why spend so much ($9.2 million) to improve the physical building when much if not most of the future growth will be in electronic offerings?

Library Director Mary Markwalter sees the upgrade as meeting two very real needs of the community. One was to preserve a gem of a building, while the other was to provide modern services.

By slightly more than a 60 percent margin, Mason City voters approved a $7.65 million bond issue for the renovation in 2007.
The addition of more computers and bandwidth and addition of more online resources was needed to serve an increasingly tech-savvy population, while the overall upgrade and addition of a coffee shop responds to their sense of historic preservation and desire for comfort.
“People come for a lot more than books,” Markwalter said. They come for research in print and online, for access to computers, for tax forms, lunch, meetings and other get-togethers. “More and more they come to use the Wi-Fi.”

Use of wireless access at the library has been increasing steadily, she said.

Many come to the library to use items and/or services they do not have at home, she said.

Mike Halloran, who was reading a magazine and newspapers in the Denison Room, is a good example.

He said he likes that the library is basically the same but with nicer carpeting and furniture. “I’ve noticed this room is quieter now than it used to be,” he said.

He said he likes to use the computers at the library. He doesn’t have one at home, so uses the ones there to pay bills and take exams online for his job as a nursing assistant.

Markwalter said the library has increased the number of newspapers it gets so patrons have more access.

A comprehensive brochure was developed during renovation to help patrons make better use of the physical and virtual offerings of the library.

Signage was improved inside and outside of the building. While many signs were in place previously, it wasn’t until people were using the library and asking staff questions that it was apparent where additional signs were needed to help people find what they need, Markwalter said.
The same goes for furnishings. Not all of them had arrived before the opening. Once all of it is onsite, much of it will be rearranged, she said. “We’ve seen how people use the library and where they like to spend their time,” Markwalter said.

People seem to enjoy the entire building.

“It’s just a really nice place,” said Julie Kim of Mason City, admiring the renovated surroundings while stopping in recently to check out some books.

She said the library is being used as a community center. “I see people meeting for lunches and they talk business.”

She said she can’t wait until the weather’s nice to go outside and enjoy the natural area behind the library, testimony again to the library’s draw as a great place to spend time.

“It’s not just walk in and get your stuff and leave,” Markwalter said. “People are spending more time here.”

It’s like a knowledge park, she said.

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