PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Nearly half of the libraries in Multnomah County will be closed at times throughout 2023 as the buildings undergo major construction, Director of Libraries Vailey Oehlke told patrons in an email sent Tuesday.
Oehlke sent the email to inform library users of upcoming disruptions to the system.
After voters approved the library capital bond in 2020, the county has been working quickly to ensure it meets aggressive spending deadlines and to help avoid the impact of rising inflation and supply chain disruptions.
“The terms of our bond sale… dictate how long we had to spend these bond funds and so that drove a lot of our decisions,” explained Katie O’Dell, the capital bond deputy director for Multnomah County Library.
As the county works quickly to improve facilities, patrons could feel the impacts of their nearby libraries closing.
Holgate and Midland libraries are already closed for construction. They’ll soon be joined by the Albina and North Portland libraries as they begin construction in the spring of 2023. The Central Library downtown is also expected to start the next phase of updates later in the year.
The library anticipates that the summer and fall of 2023 will be busy with construction. However, the exact dates of the overlapping library closures depend on contractors, permitting and materials.
“It’s a challenge,” O’Dell said. “We have a lot of community engagement going on in these projects and it helps us when we can have conversations with folks to talk about why we’re doing this and sort of where we’re headed.”
She said the amount of work that’s being done on library facilities could be stretched out over a decade or more, but the county wanted the public to experience the changes sooner rather than later. That’s why they’re not extending the projects.
While the libraries are closed, the county is working to continue to provide as many resources as they can to people impacted by the closures.
Staff members are currently designing pop-up and outreach programs to offer during the closures. There will also be a new Mobile Library for the community to enjoy. It’s a customized RV that will bring library services across the county.
The Mobile Library will offer storytime, bookshelves for patrons to browse, wifi access, printers, air conditioning and heat. It will travel to neighborhoods affected by the library closures.
Multnomah County Library has been experimenting with ways to offer the public wifi during the closure. It’s brought hotspots to parks with its outreach programs and has tested offering wifi outside its buildings, so that even if a building isn’t open, it could still be a source for internet connection.
Throughout the construction, Multnomah County Library will maintain all of its staff. No one will be laid off. Instead, they’ll join staff at spillover libraries – ones that receive more patronage while others are closed – and will work in outreach programs across the community.
“We know this community loves its libraries, and I’m sorry for the disruption and inconvenience that the temporary reduction in library collections and buildings will mean. The brief loss is a difficult tradeoff, but I’m confident in what we will deliver—new spaces that aren’t just for storing books, but are catalysts for community experiences of learning, growth and discovery,” Oehlke wrote in her letter to library users.
Some of those tradeoffs users can look forward to include massive square footage expansions for some libraries, outdoor spaces at libraries, and even the new East County Library in Gresham.
The Holgate Library, for example, will go from 6,400 square feet to 21,000 square feet. The North Portland Library will have a new Black Cultural Center and updated libraries will have more hangout spaces for teenagers, where they can access creative technology and show off their creations.
O’Dell said the library system is also greatly expanding access for early childhood learning and will build more play spaces.
By the end of 2025, every library in the county will be touched in some way through the improvement bond. Libraries that aren’t undergoing major improvements will still see things like fresh paint, new carpet or new furniture.
“These projects really aren’t just about creating space, but also a faster internet connection, more resources for the community to use in the library,” O’Dell said.
Multnomah County Library officials said they will work to be as transparent as possible throughout the construction process and will share exact dates as they draw closer.