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Downtown Bremerton library lines are daily routine

Library patrons wait outside the downtown Bremerton library on Fifth Avenue each day before its 1 p.m. opening. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Library patrons wait outside the downtown Bremerton library on Fifth Avenue each day before its 1 p.m. opening.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

Outside the front door of the Downtown Bremerton Library Monday, patrons ask each other what the time is, counting down the last 20 minutes before the library opens.

They chat politely, greeting each other by name — they’re all familiar with the midday wait outside the library. But in the final minutes before the opening they jockey for position in front of the doors.

“I got here second,” said Cherry Corleone, of Bremerton, squeezing into place before the library’s 1 p.m. opening.

Kitsap Regional Library, and the downtown Bremerton branch specifically, have seen a squeeze as circulation numbers have grown. Last month, the Downtown Bremerton branch of Kitsap Regional Library saw a nearly 30 percent circulation increase over January 2009.

But that increase came despite the slash of hours in 2008. Five days per week, downtown Bremerton’s library opens at 1 p.m., and both the downtown and Silverdale locations are closed on Sunday. The growth in circulation, at Sylvan Way and Silverdale as well as Downtown Bremerton, shows the library’s services are more needed than ever, especially in an economic downturn, said Jeff Brody, director of community relations at the Kitsap Regional Library.

“That’s an indication that for at least some people in our community, we’re providing a haven from recession,” he said.

But for those waiting Monday, it wasn’t books that brought them out early.

Almost all said they were in line to get a seat at one of the library’s eight general-use computers. The first patrons in the door get an hour online and within minutes of the library’s opening, there is already a line of people waiting to catch the second hour, or people waiting all day.

“That’s why you kind of see that mob at the door,” Downtown Branch Manager Carolyn Neal said. “They want to be the people on the computers instead of the people in line with a card waiting for the computers.”

Comments submitted by patrons in 2009 said the libraries should focus on growing their stocks of books and DVDs, noting computers are unnecessary perks. But for many who don’t own their own computer, the libraries serve as a lifeline, Brody said.

Many patrons need the libraries’ Internet connection to search job listings and apply for new jobs, while others are spending less on magazine subscriptions and new books so they can read them for free at the library, Brody said.

And that means a constant flux all day, Neal said.

“Some days I worry that I’m not going to have a place for people to sit,” she said.

Meanwhile, dedicated library goers wait for the 1 p.m. opening, like Janet Rouse, who comes to the library after lunch at the Salvation Army to browse the books. She wishes she had more time to spend there.

“It kind of sucks to have to wait here till 1 p.m.,” she said.

But still they wait.

“Sometimes there are arguments about who was here first,” said Corleone, who said the best strategy is to get in line at 12:30 p.m.

The small crowd grew to about 14 people by the time the library opened, but patrons say it’s often more crowded in the que outside, especially on colder winter days.

For the earliest in line outside the downtown library, the services were a cost-saving measure.

“I refuse to pay outrageous prices for the Internet,” said Corleone, who has waited in line to enter the library almost every day for three years. As an Olympic College student seeking to become a Catholic nun, she would go to the library on Sunday, too, but the downtown branch is closed that day and the buses don’t run to take her to the Sylvan Way location.

Jonathan Barker, who also stood outside the library, said he doesn’t have a computer at all, so the library allows him to use Facebook and Wikipedia.

“With increased circulation and increased demand for services, you struggle to figure out, ‘How are we going to meet these needs?’” Brody said. “There is constant pressure to figure out ways to do that and be responsible with our money and so we’re doing the best we can with what we have.”

According to the numbers, needs are increasing.

Checked-out items at the downtown branch rose 29 percent in January compared to January 2009, or 5,330 items to 6,906 items, Brody said.

Sylvan Way’s circulation in January 2010 was up about 3 percent compared to a year ago, with 41,284 checked-out items to 39,942 in January 2009. Silverdale’s January 2010 number of 24,536 checked-out items was 2 percent better than the 23,997 items in January 2009.

But as demand has gone up, the library’s bank account hasn’t.

Voters rejected a levy increase in 2007, but the libraries hope to place a less dramatic increase on November’s ballot. The money would restore hours, expand its collection and construct a new building to replace Silverdale’s.

The libraries are also waiting to hear whether they will receive federal stimulus dollars in the coming weeks to beef up their Internet connections, something that would fulfill one of the items on Corleone’s wish list as a patron.

In addition to Sunday hours and more computers, she wants faster Internet for her online shopping and research.

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