Will Return of Main Cedar Rapids Downtown Library Draw Many Patrons Away from Other Libraries?

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- With a grand opening just days away, workers at the new downtown Cedar Rapids Library continue to whittle away at the last minute items remaining to get ready. But the return of a main library facility for the first time since the flood of June 2008 begs a bigger question. Just how will the return of what was the biggest metro library facility (pre-flood) impact the entire regional library system?

The new downtown library opens Saturday morning with a number of festivities and events. Visitors will find 200,000 brand new books on the shelves along with the latest technology tools and even a built-in coffee shop area serving both sandwiches and drinks. And in a break with library rules of the past, patrons will be able to take food and drinks throughout the building and even up to the new rooftop garden area.

Library leaders are confident of a big crowd on opening day. And Cedar Rapids Library Director Bob Pasicznyuk confidently predicts the downtown facility will quickly resume its position as the library circulating the most material out of the four facilities that make up the metro library system.

"Library users tend to go within two-three miles of where they live. Yet, at the same time if there is a significant service or program or something or if we have a collection that is like no other, it will draw people past their simple daily convenience," Pasicznyuk said.

But exactly how many people will leave the Marion and Hiawatha libraries, as well as the west-side Cedar Rapids Ladd Library branch, to use the downtown facility is something that may not be known for some time.

Prior to the flood, in 2007, both the then west-side library branch at Westdale Mall and the main downtown library circulated a total of 1,212,944 items that year. Marion was a distant second with a circulation of 697,252 items and Hiawatha third with 189,009 items total lent to patrons. But when the flood waters knocked the main Cedar Rapids Library out of circulation in June of 2008, the lending situation totally changed.

In the most recent full year, 2012, the Marion Library was the busiest in the area measured by circulation with a total of 902,913 items lent to patrons. That was an increase of nearly 30 percent in five years. Cedar Rapids' circulation fell by half in the first full year after the flood but has recovered to second place with 805,467 items circulated in 2012. Hiawatha remains in third place among metro libraries with a circulation of 321,012 that year.

Doug Raber, Marion Library director, expects a lot of people to sample the new downtown Cedar Rapids Library opening Saturday. But he's not sure how many will go there as their "first choice" library. Raber said population growth in the metro area is heaviest on the north and northeast sides meaning more people now live closer to both the Marion and Hiawatha libraries.

"And then there's habit," Raber said adding "people have got used to coming here in the last few years since the flood and might continue to come here. But it's one of those things difficult to predict."

When Marion is measured against cities comparable in size, it has the second biggest circulation in the entire state—behind only the public library in Ames. Marion could lose ten to fifteen percent of its current circulation to the new downtown facility in Cedar Rapids and still remain in second place on a statewide basis. Raber expects to lose some business to the new downtown Cedar Rapids facility. But he doesn't expect a return to the breakdown of business the libraries saw before the flood.

Several Marion Library users echoed the sampling, but staying feeling.

John Wilkinson, who was at the Marion Library with his grandkids, said "I may go down to visit just because it's new. But we're staying here (Marion)."

Raber said that's why his library, and Hiawatha, are still pursuing a long term goal of expansion and working on gathering petition signatures to add an increased library tax levy to the fall election ballot.

Cedar Rapids library director Pasicznyuk isn't so sure Hiawatha and Marion will lose that much to the new downtown facility. He thinks the addition of a brand new state-of-the-art library will encourage more library usage overall and boost overall circulation for every library in the metro area.
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