By Oliver Lazenby
The Whatcom County Library System(WCLS) started studying whether it should offer more services in Birch Bay last month, and this week it awarded a contract to Zervas Architects of Bellingham to analyze a specific property for its potential as a library.
The WCLS decision on whether to pursue more library services for Birch Bay doesn’t hinge on the property, which is at 7986 Birch Bay Drive. The property, offered to WCLS or a Friends of the Library group by Gary and Cindy Lou Vogt for $750,000, has a 2,135-square-foot craftsmen house and two unfinished shop buildings.
“The pieces are a little bit independent of one another. The board needs to come to a recommendation on whether or not to pursue services in Birch Bay, and that is independent of the Vogt property,” said WCLS executive director Christine Perkins. “If it turns out that it would not be appropriate to purchase that property but it is important to expand services, then we’ll continue to pursue that.”
Birch Bay is one of a few communities in the county that is most in need of more library services, Perkins told the library board of trustees at its October 18 meeting.
“Birch Bay, a small area around Laurel, and a small area around Geneva are the three areas with significant population density and a drive time beyond 10 minutes to one of our libraries,” she said.
Birch Bay has an impressive amount of library cardholders, who mostly use the Blaine library, Perkins said. More than 5,200 WCLS library cardholders live in Birch Bay, and 3,261 of those are considered active users according to WCLS’s data, which Perkins cautioned is collected when people sign up for cards and not usually updated if they move.
Birch Bay residents also extensively use the Bookmobile, a traveling mobile library that spends five hours a week in Birch Bay. More than 10,200 items per year are checked out to Birch Bay residents at the Bookmobile, Perkins said.
The Vogt Property
A site assessment of the Vogt property hadn’t started yet, but according to numbers that Perkins presented to the trustees at the meeting, the brown house on the lot would make for a small library. Its first floor is 1,492 square feet. The “service area,” or the zone in which people would travel to a Birch Bay library rather than another one, includes 8,413 people. WCLS’s South Whatcom Library, on Lake Whatcom in Sudden Valley, serves a similar number of people with 2,743 square feet and is one of the smallest libraries in the district in terms of size per potential users.
Libraries commonly use square footage per person in the service area as a metric for the size of a library. In a perfect world there would be one square foot of space per every person, Perkins said.
WCLS libraries vary in size, and that number is a target, rather than a standard the library system tries to achieve with every building, she said.
“We’re all over the map in terms of the size of communities and how big their libraries are,” Perkins told the board. “We’ve been operating many libraries in Whatcom County that don’t come close to that target.”
Even with the second floor of the house on the Vogt property – which would need work to make it ADA accessible – the house has 0.25 square feet of space for every one person in its service area. That’s still smaller than South Whatcom, which has the smallest square feet of space per potential user at .33. Blaine’s WCLS branch has 0.57 square feet of space per person in its service area.
Given those numbers, the Vogt property may not be big enough to be a WCLS branch without some modifications.
“I would guess that that space would not be sufficient to even provide a minimal service to that community, that we would look at either an addition to that building or a separate building behind it,” Perkins said in a phone interview after the meeting.
If WCLS pursues a library in Birch Bay, it will need to determine what kind of service that library will provide. Most WCLS libraries, including the Blaine Library, offer a busy schedule of classes and programs. Others, like the South Whatcom Library, make due with less space partly because they offer fewer programs.
The board of trustees will continue to discuss library service in Birch Bay and the Vogt property at its next meeting on November 15. Before then, trustees would like to solicit more information from Birch Bay residents and get some more numbers on circulation and other relevant data.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated how many items Birch Bay residents check out from the WCLS Bookmobile. They check out 10,200 items per year, not per month.