To get to the restroom at the Valley Library in Lakeland, patrons must walk through a storage area and employee break room, maneuver past a water heater and furnace, and sidestep a box of cleaning supplies.
The restroom — and there’s only one — is not accessible by wheelchair. Looking for a diaper-changing station? There isn’t one.
“My boys won’t even go back there,” said Amy Lahr, mother of Declan, 6, and Corwin, 4, after a recent children’s story program on dinosaurs. “They say it’s too scary.”
Other limitations: cramped space between shelves, inadequate seating, no meeting room and limited space to expand the collection.
“We would love more browsing materials, especially for the boys,” said Lahr, who lives in Lakeland. “We’re always getting books from Stillwater or Bayport.”
Lahr and others are lobbying Washington County to give the library — the county’s smallest branch — a major makeover.
Improvements to the 2,400-square-foot library, which has been in a leased space in the Lakeland Center shopping mall for more than 30 years, are long overdue, said Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel.
“There’s not enough room in that library to change anything, let alone change your mind,” he said. “It’s just too small.”
County officials are working on a plan to “right-size it to the community, based on the local need,” Kriesel said. “It’s not going to be R.H. Stafford size (the Woodbury branch), but it’s definitely going to be a major improvement to what they have now.”
More space to accommodate programs like children’s story hour and a new lecture series called Valley Talks is at the top of priorities set by Valley Forward, a group formed to push for improving the library, said group founder Sarah Meyer.
“Valley Talks is the kind of thing we can accomplish, if we have focus and if we have space,” said Meyer, who lives in St. Mary’s Point. “It’s difficult for the presenter to basically have to (give their talk) right in the middle of everything.”
Teresa Allessi, youth services librarian, said it’s awkward for adult patrons to share space with children during story time.
“It’s just very tight,” she said. “Last week we had kids back here taking part in the program activities, and people here trying to do their stuff on the computer. It would be really nice to have a separate space for that.”
More space to expand the library’s collection is also needed; the teen collection, for example, is limited to two shelves in the back corner, Allessi said. “Nonfiction is just these three rows, and then we have some CDs. Adult fiction is, like, these two main sections.”
The staff “break room” consists of a microwave and a mini-fridge jammed into a storage space in back; librarians wash their dishes in the bathroom sink, she said.
“We don’t have an office,” she said. “There’s one supply cabinet. (Materials) are stacked in bins because there’s not enough space.
Valley Library is one of three libraries marked for coming improvements, Library Director Keith Ryskoski said last week.
Construction is expected to start next year on new libraries in Cottage Grove and Mahtomedi; the county board in 2016 approved a five-year bonding plan that included $12 million to replace the two structures. The Park Grove Library in Cottage Grove is estimated to cost $7 million to replace, and the Wildwood Library in Mahtomedi $5 million, he said.
The county plans to spend about $850,000 on improvements at Valley Library; that money would come from the county’s annual operating budget, Ryskoski said. The county board hired an architect earlier this year to do a site plan, and meetings were held with community members.
“We would like to have something happening within the next year,” Ryskoski said. “We’ve been there almost 30 years. We all agree that the space needs to be improved. And I don’t just want to deal with the bathroom. If we’re going to do things, let’s enhance the whole experience of the library versus just fixing the bathroom.”
The space — “it’s kind of just a long shoebox” — is not conducive to hosting large groups, according to Ryskoski.
“If you want to have a meeting, even of 10 or 20 people, you’re kind of in the way,” he said. “I don’t know if we need to look at doubling or tripling (the space), but we need to have a little more room than we do now to accommodate those kinds of things.”
The library, which serves the communities of Afton, Lake St. Croix Beach, Lakeland, Lakeland Shores and St. Mary’s Point, circulated about 27,000 materials last year. In comparison, the Woodbury branch, the county’s largest, circulated almost 825,000.
Meyer said a new and improved library — and expanded hours — would mean more circulation; Valley Library is open only 24 hours a week.
Meyer and other library supporters would like for the library to stay in Lakeland; one option might be to lease a larger space in Lakeland Center, Kriesel said.
Lahr, of Lakeland, said she and her sons regularly bike to the library.
“I really want it to stay in our community,” she said. “I don’t want it to leave or move to Afton or some other community.”