Like many libraries trying to do more with less, the Aurora Public Library (APL), CO, was looking for a cost-effective way to expand its footprint in the community. What it found was a most unlikely partner.
In early June, the library opened its newest satellite branch inside a local Kmart, in a 600 square foot space formerly occupied by a credit union. Situated at the front of the store, the location functions primarily as a public computing center. Visitors can use the computers for an hour as a guest, or as long as they like with a library card. A library aide is on hand to answer questions. There aren't any books kept on-site, but patrons can use the library's online catalog to place holds and have their materials delivered to the store. They can also return books and sign up for a library card. While they can't pay late fees in cash, users can do so with a credit card on the library's website.
Following a soft opening June 4, the location drew 763 visitors in its first month of operation, according to Betsy Baxendale, library supervisor for the north region of APL. Most were regular Kmart customers, while some were drawn to the library specifically.
"Some people have used our other locations and have found this to be very convenient for them," said Baxendale. "But we've also been getting people who are not traditional library users, and that's very positive for us."
The location grew out of a citywide initiative to increase public access to computers and the Internet. Patti Bateman, APL's library and cultural services director, cited a recent study by the local school district that found one-third of individuals living in northern Aurora--where many immigrant and low income families reside and the Kmart is located--do not own PCs.
Though this is the first such computer center in a retail store, the library also operates such spaces at two local recreation centers, according to the Denver Post. A similar, larger center was scheduled to open in late August at a former library branch, which now also holds a teen/community center operated by the town's parks and recreation department.
The Kmart store, though an unconventional choice, seemed a natural fit to library officials. Up until 2009, when its budget was cut in half, the library had operated a computing center in a strip mall across the street. The end result is an outpost that runs at a fraction of the cost of a conventional branch. Start-up costs, including the computers, furniture, and connectivity, were $35,000, with the monthly rent of $2,450, according to the library's operations manager Steve Wasiecko.
"We didn't have a lot of money, so we needed to do this in the most inexpensive way possible," said Bateman.
Kmart spokesman Howard Riefs said its partnership with the library is a first for the company.
Baxendale said her immediate goal was simply to open the new location but that she'll continue monitoring usage over the coming months to make sure it lives up to her (great) expectations. "Sometimes people are put off by the library building," said Baxendale, "but if it's in another place where they already go, then that's the place they want to be."