Major Changes to Roanoke Library System Plan

Reporter: David Tate

Roanoke, VA. - Libraries continue to be targets in our area as cities try to make ends meet in tough times. Add Roanoke to the list of those looking to cut or trim library expenses.

The Star City is now doing an about face on its most recent five-year plan that, among other things, would move away from building a large new branch on Peter's Creek Road and concentrate enhancing smaller neighborhood branch locations.

Monday, Roanoke head librarian Sheila Umberger proposed a radical new five-year plan that changes just about everything the last plan had called for. Then again, few could have forecasted the recession when that plan was made.

"It's important, and we've always known this, to maximize our money for the benefit of the community," said Umberger, director of Roanoke Public Libraries.

System leaders looked at the success of two recent renovations at both Gainsboro Library and Jackson Park for ideas. After compiling the data, they realized renovations tailored to fit each library's neighborhood dramatically increased their usage.

"Our door count is up almost 50%. Our circulation is up 80% and so what we have implemented in the master plan is working," said Umberger.

For community leaders like Mark Powell, the changes at Jackson Park have worked well and he thinks they can work elsewhere.

"Seems like the city is focusing more on neighborhoods and neighborhood development, so what's happening at Jackson hopefully can be replicated at other branches across the city," said Powell who leads the Southeast Action Forum.

One place they won't be working is at an 11-acre site off Peter's Creek Road where a $13 million branch was proposed in the last five year plan. That isn't the case anymore as the new plan calls for a smaller branch within the proposed village center on the former Countryside Golf Course property.

"I think what we can do with the $13 million is, rather than one large branch, we can invest in five neighborhoods. I think it is something the community will be pleased with," said Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill.

While there are no official proposals yet, leaders say not to look for a Countryside library branch any time soon.

However, expansion at the main library will be a proposal soon as the hope is to have that construction coincide with the surrounding Elmwood Park changes that are planned to begin later this summer.