A temporary library in southwest OKC becomes permanent after it draws scores of new users.
BY CLIFTON ADCOCK
Few cars are parked in the sprawling concrete prairie of a southwest Oklahoma City lot that once saw vehicles roaming like buffalo across its surface. Some parts of the Almonte Shopping Center still cling to life, but large swaths of the strip mall, in the 2900 block of S.W. 59th Street, sit as empty husks.
But life is beginning to stir within at least one of these former stores.
When the Metropolitan Library System (MLS) last year temporarily closed its Southern Oaks branch, 6900 S. Walker, for renovations, the library’s contents were moved to a 12,000-square-foot former department store in the Almonte center.
Little did library officials know the move would reveal a big need in the community.
Within the first 10 months, around 1,000 people who had not previously held an MLS card signed up for one at the new location, said Kim Terry, director of marketing for the library system.
“We found a community that was underserved,” Terry said. “They don’t have a library there. We’re very fortunate to reopen this.”
We found a community that was underserved.
When it came time to reopen the Southern Oaks Library in September, library officials had already been working to make the temporary site a more permanent one.
“We went to the city and said we’ve gained a lot of customers,” Terry said, “This was a niche we needed to capitalize on.”
The permanent branch closest to that community is in the Capitol Hill district. Even Cleveland County’s Pioneer Library System has no facilities nearby.
Under a deal with the property owner, city officials and the library system, the city pays the new library’s lease of around $7,000 a month (increasing by 2 percent each year over five years) while MLS covers operating expenses.
The City Council approved the measure Nov. 6.
Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee praised the library system for attempting to serve more residents.
“The use of this has been astronomical and very gratifying,” he said. “It serves a need in this particular part of town.... I think it’s an excellent move to provide library services for people who would otherwise have a real inconvenience in trying to get to a library.”
Pat Ryan, Ward 8 councilman, also supported the idea, but said the city should move forward cautiously, because the project falls outside the typical process for establishing new library branches.
“When we do something like this, we should do it deliberately and with full understanding of what we’re trying,” Ryan said.
Mayor Mick Cornett pointed out that some cities have successfully revitalized underutilized strip malls by putting libraries in them.
“I don’t think it’s something we should completely ignore,” he said, “if it’s something that can be a new investment in communities that have never had them before, and our libraries are willing to operate them.”
Much of the old furniture from the Southern Oaks library remains at the Almonte Library, so the location just needs books. The library system hopes to have the branch reopened early next year.
In addition, MLS is planning to hire people to staff the new location, Terry said. For more information, visit mls.lib.ok.us.