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Library ecstatic over high ranking

by: Cliff Newell, Audio-visual Librarian Greg Williams and Co-Library Director Linda Malone are pictured in the West Linn library.

The West Linn Public Library is rising fast.

Not on the Billboard Hot 100, but on the HAPLR rating system.

HAPLR (Hennen's American Public Library Ratings) is the method used by the American Library Association to rank libraries, and when it comes to Oregon libraries, West Linn ranks with the very best.

The latest HAPLR showed West Linn in fourth place. That is definitely a good enough showing for West Linn to set its sights on Lake Oswego's top-ranked library. According to Library Board Chair Marilyn Torsen, it's also reason for many congratulations.

'We feel excited about this,' Torsen said. 'Our staff has worked so hard, and we're very proud of them.'

The staff is definitely the key in West Linn's rise up the HAPLR. The library certainly hasn't benefited from any recent influx of cash, since voters have been rejecting bond measures with regularity in recent years. A 2004 levy defeat put a damper on the library's future plans.

The library also has been doing without a full-time director for almost a year, while three staff members have been filling the slot.

But these obstacles haven't prevented West Linn's rise in Oregon's library world.

'I'm very pleased,' said Linda Malone, who is sharing director duties with Ellen Credle and Sarah McIntyre. 'The HAPLR rating is very positive. It says a lot about our staff.'

While official statistics are not compiled in this area, circulation has risen at the library in recent years.

'We have seen many, many, many more people,' Malone said. 'Increase in circulation is one of our big trends. We've also had a heavy increase in Internet usage.'

A key for this improvement was the remodeling of the library, beginning in 2001. It included a whole new downstairs, workspace for staff members, a front lobby, and an area beyond the fireplace room.

One innovation that maximized exposure for readers of all ages was putting all of the youth services downstairs and all adult services upstairs.

The challenge of increasing automation had to be met, too.

'Because we didn't have enough staff people, we had to figure out ways for people to help themselves,' said Greg Williams, the audio-visual librarian and publicity director.

'We built our own home-grown self-serve stations, and Greg did it,' Malone said. 'At first our patrons were just standing at the stations and wondering what to do. But Greg, who is very clever, built a great graphic interface that was very easy to understand. We've had nothing but positive comments about it.'

Can West Linn Public Library keep up the good work? Malone and Williams are wary about the future because of the uncertainty of library funding.

Part of the reason West Linn has received a big influx of patrons is that Oregon City was forced to cut its hours in 2004. In addition, two libraries, Jackson and Josephine, are close to closing because of loss of funding due to Congress rescinding the timber tax.

'Things are uncertain for the upcoming year,' Williams said. 'Should the police levy fail, the money will have to come from other city services.'

'With the funding in doubt, we have no capital expenditures at this point,' Malone said.

So the West Linn Library is falling back on a resource that isn't running out.

Ingenuity.

'It's a constant challenge to get items that patrons want and also have a broad and deep enough spectrum of materials,' Malone said. 'We must have literature, career guides and children's items on hand.

'That means we need to make our purchases with much more scrutiny.'

The library does get a lot of help from its friends, specifically the Friends of the Library, which runs a bookselling operation that raises from $15,000 to $20,000 a year.

Malone praises an outstanding group of volunteers, led by coordinator Beth Meinerth.

Some good ideas have surfaced, including starting a foundation.

'The basic concern is that a lot of infrastructure is needed,' Williams said. 'Would it justify the amount of expense needed? I know Marilyn (Torsen) is looking at it. I would love to see it.'

In the back of everyone's minds, Malone said is, 'What is the future for libraries in Clackamas County?'

Until that question is answered, the library staff is making sure the present works well, and the HAPLR proves their success.

'We have a very successful youth services division,' Malone said, 'a story hour, and a summer reading program that Ellen Credle has done a great job of managing.

'This says a lot about our staff's commitment to the community and to the library. It has stepped up and done a magnificent job.'

The West Linn Public Library is located at 1595 Burns St. To find out more about the library's services, call 503-656-7853.