Foundation honored for support of Salem’s library renovation

A stairway to the teen and children’s level at the Salem Public Library on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The Oregon Library Association recognized the Salem Public Library Foundation with its Library Supporter of the Year Award earlier this month, an honor aimed at acknowledging the foundation’s role in a recent seismic and aesthetic retrofit of the building.

The award – granted annually to an unpaid person or nonprofit that’s gone above and beyond to support Oregon libraries – was bestowed to the foundation in a virtual ceremony.

“We were really happy to participate in the retrofit project,” Kate Van Ummersen, the foundation’s executive director, said upon receiving the award. “We all got what we wanted: A beautiful library on the inside, and a beautiful library on the outside.”

In 2017, Salem voters passed a $18.6 million bond to overhaul the 50-year-old Salem Public Library facility. The project’s primary purpose was to make the building and parking garage more structurally sound in case of an earthquake. The bond additionally paid to replace library shelves and security cameras, as well as bring the building into ADA compliance. 

But there were other items on the wish list, too. Wants, rather than needs – things that would improve the look and atmosphere of the building not covered by the taxpayer-approved bond. That was where the foundation stepped in.

According to library staffer Sonja Somerville, the Salem Public Library Foundation poured an extra $620,000 into the renovation for five more elements.

“Those extras that didn’t fit within the bond but really made an incredible difference in how this building worked out,” Somerville said at the ceremony.

With the supplementary funds, the library was able to remove concrete blocks on the west side of the building and install windows, replace a staircase, and open up the entry hallway into an airy garden entrance. 

An oak tree is surrounded by benches outside of the Salem Public Library following its renovation. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The money also went toward expanding the library’s Teen Scene section and moving it upstairs from its former home in the basement, as well as enhancing the Discovery Room, which contains hands-on, interactive exhibits for children.

“With the money they put into the library, we were able to do these kinds of upgrades that make the library an aesthetically pleasing space and change the whole look and feel,” city librarian Kim Carroll said.

While the additional funds for the seismic upgrade were the major impetus behind the foundation’s receipt of the award, library leaders also acknowledged the organization for its ongoing support of smaller initiatives.

One program, called “Sprinkle Grants,” encourages staffers to request grants directly from the foundation for small, innovative projects targeted at improving the experience of using the library.

For example, one recent Sprinkle sum went toward installing an electronics charging station, Carroll said.

“It’s a really great way to support innovation,” she added.

Moving forward, the Salem Public Library is working on establishing a new equipment rental program where patrons can check out specialized, practical items like a metal detector or an electronic microscope. Carroll said staffers are currently working on purchasing and cataloging the items, as well as setting up a system for circulation, and plan to have the program up and running in June.

Meantime, she said, the Salem Public Library will remain a place where any member of the community can visit and gain knowledge.

“I like that libraries stand for intellectual freedom. I like that they’re democratic spaces where everyone’s welcome,” Carroll said. “Giving people the ability to access information that they may not be able to get otherwise – if you can’t afford Wi-Fi or internet, those are things that we provide, in addition to our materials that we circulate.”

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