Tupelo library explores growth options

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Lee County Library this month could learn the initial results of a $30,000 study it commissioned to gauge its space and facility needs.
The study will help library officials determine whether to stay in the existing building on the corner of Madison and Jefferson streets or whether to construct a new, larger structure elsewhere.
“This facility opened in 1971, almost 40 years ago,” said library Director Jan Willis, whose second-floor office overlooks the library floor. “When it was built, as large as it is, they couldn’t have anticipated how technology would change and how it would change the library.”
In addition to housing and lending books and other media, the library today serves an average of 6,800 people per month who come in just to use its nearly three dozen Internet-ready computers.
All together, some 800 people use the library each day, according to statistics provided last year.
The uptick in patronage is good, Willis said, but it has caused strain on the facility, its technological capacity and its parking lot – whose 45 spaces are a third of what it requires to accommodate all the traffic.
“We needed a long-range plan,” Willis said.
Using funds raised by the Friends of the Lee County Library, and a Mississippi Library Commission grant, the library board hired nationally known consultant Anders Dahlgren.
Dahlgren, who is based in northern Illinois, began his work early this year with interviews, site visits, peer reviews, statistical research and focus groups.
He said all this helps him determine what kind of services and collections the library wants and needs over the next several decades. Once he defines that, he’ll know how much space is required.
“The size of the collection determines the size of the house,” Dahlgren said. “If you have 36 computers now, and you determine you’ll need 70 computers later, you’re going to need more space.”
It sounds easy, but to avoid blind conjecture and inaccuracies, the process is tedious and data driven, he said.
The study’s initial findings could be available by the end of June, at which point the library will hold a public hearing to present them. Dahlgreen will then rework the study into its final version.
Willis said it could take years before the library has enough funds to act on any of the study’s recommendations. But he said it’s good to have a starting point.
“The biggest thing I think, truly, is that we need to have a bigger library,” said longtime patron and supporter Marion Linde. “They need more parking. I was there with a friend and dropped her off and drove around and around and around waiting for a parking space to come up. It’s a disaster.”