The Salem Public Library opened its Broadway location on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

One of the biggest gripes of Salem’s bibliophiles was addressed Monday evening when the Salem City Council unanimously voted to allow three hours of free parking when the Salem Public Library opens this summer at 585 Liberty Street S.E. 

Paying for parking at the library has been a common complaint among patrons. A 2019 survey found that 88% of more than 300 survey respondents wanted free parking at the library.

But that’ll change this summer. After patrons’ three hours are up, they’ll have to pay 75 cents per hour. Parking is also free every evening after 6 p.m., all day Sundays and on city holidays.

The Liberty Street parkade has been closed while the library undergoes a seismic retrofit. A temporary library location is open on 1400 Broadway St. N.E., offering curbside service by appointment only.

The library is also planning to replace the existing coin-operated parking meters with new digital kiosks that’ll allow patrons to pay by credit or debit card and can dial in how much time they need, according to staff report by city Librarian Sarah Strahl.

The units cost $12,000 each to purchase and install and the library is hoping to buy two or three.

Strahl’s report said the parkade is estimated to collect 10% of what it normally would in fees under the three-hour free parking structure. The revenue is estimated to decrease by more than $64,000 from nearly $72,000 to about $7,000 per year.

City staff are reallocating operating funds within the library’s annual budget to make up for lost revenue, the report said.

On Monday, city councilor Virginia Stapleton recalled having her kids upstairs in the library and frantically trying to get to the parking garage before her meter expired.

“I’m just thrilled to death with this,” Stapleton said of the free parking.

Those who wrote to council in public comment documents were all in favor of a three-hour limit versus a city staff recommendation of an hour and a half.

Denise Duren, a Library Advisory Board member, wrote a letter advocating for the three-hour limit and provided several examples of groups that would easily spend more than the shorter allotment at the library.

“The library is a meeting place for teens and other social groups to conduct the business of their associations which often run longer. The library hosts public computers for patrons to write their resumes, email job prospects and to email their relatives; I worked with AmeriCorps volunteers who extensively relied on these services,” she wrote in council comments.

Ann Scheppke, a former adult services librarian at the Salem Public Library, said she was often frustrated because many patrons told staff they would not participate in programs because of the cost of parking.

“Or they would show up for a program, then leave before it was over to feed the meter. Or gleefully tell us how they had found a distant "secret spot" where parking was unmetered, only to endure a slog through weather and over busy intersections, often laden with library materials, to attend an event,” she wrote to council.

Katherine Daniels, vice-chair of the Library Advisory Board, wrote in public comments that the three-hour time was in line with free parking downtown which lasts three hours.

“We see no good reason why Salem residents should have to pay more to park to use a city service than to park to patronize a private business,” Daniels wrote to council.

Councilors Chris Hoy and Vanessa Nordyke, and Strahl agreed free parking was an equity issue.

“I’m of the firm belief we need to lower barriers to library patrons,” Hoy, who made a motion to approve the 3-hour parking, said. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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