Story last updated at 2:33 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 2002

Fund-raising effort marks new chapter for library
by Carey James
Staff Writer

Last year, 98,000 people traipsed through the Homer Public Library's door, took out 96,000 books and wandered out.

When the 3,500-square-foot building was constructed in 1979, Homer's population was around 2,000 and the facility had 8,000 books. Today, the library serves five times that many people with a collection of 34,000 items, but the floor space hasn't expanded an inch.

While Homer and Kachemak City have been channeling state funds toward a new library, fund-raising efforts have garnered only $450,000. Add to that the predicted funds from the sale of the current library, and the library is still more than $2 million below the estimated cost of a new facility.

Library director Helen Hill said groups have been asking for more space and trying to raise money for decades, but it has been slow going.

Things appear to be changing, however. On Tuesday, Homer City Council members took preliminary steps toward putting a bond issue on the October ballot. And a recent successful fund-raising campaign in Haines rekindled the library's drive to find funds for a new building.

"They raised more than $2 million in foundation grants and through a private donation pledge drive," Hill said. "So we are using them as a model."

Early this month, the library capital campaign organized several committees to tackle the fund-raising effort. Among the first jobs is to hold public meetings to ascertain what the library should contain.

'We want to determine what services are the priority of the community of Homer," Hill said.

Services for the growing senior population and the increased use of computers and the Internet will likely be key elements in the new facility, she said, but not the only demands.

"Just because we have computers doesn't mean people are giving up books," Hill said, adding that people are requesting audio books, video tapes, CDs and DVDs. "These days, people want everything."

Another priority feature Hill predicts is an adequate children's section.

"A lot of children's rooms in libraries are really fun places with murals and soundproof glass so kids can play and sing, and it doesn't disturb the adults in the library," she said.

Hill said a meeting room might be useful, allowing author receptions and other events to occur during the library's business hours.

Internet use is another issue to consider, Hill said, as hundreds of summer visitors <> more and more each year <> use the library's connection.

Public support will be a big factor in securing funding, Hill said. When fund-raising efforts begin, each dollar donated locally will provide leverage to secure more grant funding.

"It's a great signal to foundations that this was something the community really wanted," Hill said.

Studies have suggested the facility needs around 17,000 square feet, but the library will use that figure as a baseline and use public input to determine the community's needs.

City council members expressed renewed interest in the new facility Tuesday, and asked that the administration come back soon with rough estimates of cost. Councilman John Fenske said he hoped to put a seasonal sales tax on the ballot this fall that would fund the library.

"What we're hearing (from constituents) is it's time to finish off the library, it's time to finish off the animal shelter. What we need is funding," he said, and the most direct route is through a general obligation bond.

City Manager Ron Drathman said he would try to have numbers back to the council this summer.