M ary Hartz-Musgrave is about to celebrate a birthday. Not hers, but that of a 15,000 square-foot repository of learning known as the Oro Valley Public Library.

In less than a year since opening at 1305 W. Naranja Drive the library's offerings have grown from 62,000 items to more than 80,000. In this short time it has become the sixth busiest library in the Tucson Pima Public Library system's 22 service points with an estimated 30,000 visitors a month.

Since the library's first computer was moved in on May 22, 2002, 16 others with Internet access and Microsoft Office software have been added, along with eight computers for catalog searches and two for the library's pioneer self-checkout system.

All this is handled by a staff of eight full-time and 17 part-time employees and an average of 70 volunteers a month. In fact, when the library held its first volunteer appreciation day not long ago, invitations went out to more than 200 people who had given nearly 800 hours of their time.

Without this volunteer participation, the planning and programming done by staff would have been impossible, said Managing Librarian Mary Hartz-Musgrave in a recent interview at the library.

"They're dedicated, high quality people and they take a personal interest in their library," she said.

The explosion in demand for services has come as no surpise to Hartz-Musgrave.

"We fully expected this growth because the demand for library services was so strong," she said in a recent interview at the library. "In every community development survey where people were asked what they wanted in terms of the next capital improvements project, outside of fixing roads, it was a library.

"All you would hear was 'build a library, where's the library, when are you going to build a library,” Hartz-Musgrave said.

The library's actual first day of operations was July 31, 2002 when it opened on a part-time basis. The only way to discover whether things were going to break down or not was to try them out, Hartz-Musgrave said.

"People asked us why can't you be open longer and we'd have to say, well, guess what, we're having things not work right. But I'm glad we did it that way because it allowed us the other half of the day to make the changes necessary so we'd be really ready for the grand opening. We really wanted the grand opening to be a success."

The official grand opening took place Aug. 17 with a ribbon cutting ceremony just before 10 a.m. atttended by several hundred residents.

"That was on a Saturday and the following Monday it was like, OK, this is reality, from this day forward this is how we're going to work and everybody felt like, OK, we can't be any readier, let's get to it."

As a mother, Hartz-Musgrave compares the library's development to date to a child that's gone through weaning and is in the process of taking its first steps, occasionally falling down and not quite ready for pre-school yet.

Patrons, however, have few complaints.

The library "seems to have everything we need," said Janette Amos, a mother of four children ranging in age from 11 to 19 who has home-schooled all her children. "There's nothing lacking in terms of our needs and it's especially nice because it's so quiet," said Amos who does her grading while her childen search for books.

Anne Kessell, a Tucson resident who usually vis its the Nanini and Wood libraries, said she "feels like a kid in a candy store" when she comes to Oro Valley. "Because it's new it makes it special," Kessell said. "All the books are so new."

Laurie Lemmon, who was attending the library for only the second time, said she was impressed by how "kid friendly" the library is. "It looks like they've taken most of the library and set it aside for kids," said Lemmon, the mother of two children ages 2 and 7. "Coming here from now on is going to be a weekly event."

A key to taking the library to the next step is the need to complete construction of 10,000 square feet of unused space.

As far as when that might happen, "God only knows and he ain't telling us yet," Hartz-Musgrave said.

Friends of the Oro Valley Public Library several months ago pledged to raise up to $300,000 toward the $700,000 to $1.2 million it was estimated would be required to build out this unused portion.

The group argued that the library is already operating at only 60 percent of the space it needed five years ago and the town's population is expected to grow by an additional 50 percent over the next seven years after a 30 percent increase in the past four years.

The town, however, deemed it too costly and premature to set aside more than half of the $45,000 estimated cost of financing the planning and architectural expenses necessary prior to construction. Friends of the Oro Valley Public Library are financing the other half.

If, by some miracle, someone walked into the library and plopped down the $1.2 million to finish the building, that could be done next year, Hartz-Musgrave said. The problem is that, at this point, the town doesn't have the resources to support a completed building with the four additional people, furnishings, computers and other equipment that would be needed for the added space.

"I don't have the operation and maintenance money and I don't see it coming anytime soon until we know what the economic forecast is going to be," she said.

Among the challenges library staff has had to confront in its initial year of operation is the lack of shelf space, Hartz-Musgrave said.

When staff and volunteers began unpacking and shelving the more than 1,200 boxes of books collected for the library, a collection that filled the library meeting room, hallway and lined the library walls, so many books were being shelved that it became a safety issue of the shelves possibly collapsing.

So those books that were in lesser demand, including extra copies in good condition and children's books not being used during the school year, were put in storage, Hartz-Musgrave said, adding that it didn't mean such a book couldn't be checked out, only that a staff member would have to go into storage to retrieve it.

"It's called making due with what you've got," she said.

Hartz-Musgrave praised her staff for constantly coming up with ideas to address such challenges. "When a challenge comes up, instead of griping about it they come up with a solution and we do it," she said.

Other challenges Hartz-Musgrave hopes to address as time goes on is the lack of space for children and teens and the means to support major programs such as the library's summer reading program of author's lectures and other events.

The library's response to the needs of teens by necessity has been a token one inadequate to their needs, she said. What they need is a place to come and socialize, to be teens at their library. But there is no space for them to do it, no space for children to be children.

"Our goal is to create those spaces where teens can be teens, children can be children, parents can be parents, adults can be adults and friends can be friends,"she said.

Another goal of the library is to increase communications with school librarians to find out what books are needed to give students more homework help, she said.

In terms of program challenges, Hartz-Musgrave offered as an example the library's extremely popular summer reading program events, including talks by guest authors and puppet shows, from which the library has had to turn people away because of the lack of space in the current meeting room.

"We'll have to be more creative in the coming year and gather support hopefully from the Friends and other forms of sponsorship in order to expand or we're going to continue to have the same problem where only a few are going to be able to attend our programs," she said.

Hartz-Musgrave and her staff are attempting to address the library's challenges by means of a strategic effort called "Planning for Results," financed by a $5,000 grant from the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records Department.

The library's report, intended as a "road map" for implementing future development, is based largely on the recommendations of a 12-member planning committee whose members included junior high and high school sudents, a high school librarian, a homeowners association member, town Parks and Recreation Division and Planning and Zoning Division officials, Friends members, the Tucson Pima Public Library and volunteers.

The plan, recently approved by the Town Council, sets the stage for the library to apply for the grants to fund its implementation efforts.

Hartz-Musgrave said the library is merely at the point now where it will be applying for planning and research grants in the $2,000 to $4,000 range, short-term grants that don't have the deadline constraints of big dollar competitive grants. These smaller grants will enable staff to see what advances are being made by other library systems and to incorporate these advances as the library progresses toward completion.

Not that the library hasn't set precedents of its own. It was the first in Southern Arizona to establish a self-checkout system that allows patrons to check out books without staff assistance.

The system itself was a major concern for library staff, Hartz-Musgrave said. The question was whether the public would take to it or demand staff help, she said.

From all observations, patrons are treating the system just as if they were going to the local grocer, she said. "If you have just a few items, you don't mind checking them out yourself. The attitude is sure, fine, get me out of here and let me get on with my life. But the people with a stack of books and one thing after another, they're happy to have a staff person assist them."

Other libraries are now modeling their checkout system after Oro Valley's and when the town's system is upgraded patrons will not only be able to renew their books, they'll be able to put return books in a slot and get a receipt for them, Hartz-Musgrave said.

You can't blame her, but Hartz-Musgrave, a former branch librarian in Kingman, likes to brag about her Oro Valley library.

"It's the best of both worlds,"she said. "It's a community library. The community claims ownership. They get involved. They have a say and they know they have a say. They take part."

Another part of the equation is a staff Hartz-Musgrave described as "customer-service oriented, very compassionate people who care that your needs are being met."

And then there's the town itself.

"I couldn't work for a better place and I'm proud to be able to say that publicly," Hartz-Musgrave said. "They support the employee. They expect you to give your best and because they give you what you need to do a great job, you want to do your best."

In taking on the job in Oro Valley, Hartz-Musgrave said she was given more responsibility than she had ever had before and at times was even a bit apprehensive about fulfilling her role in the building of the library.

She recalled heading to the library each day from the Copper Creek area, watching the building as it went up.

Because there isn't the room today to do buildings and provide the traditional services as there was as recently as the late 90s, you've got to find a better way to do it, she said. "And I did it. I went out and wasn't afraid to ask questions and get my toes stepped on. It was a matter of questioning, looking, searching and digging. And that's what librarians love to do. They love to do research."

Now when Hartz-Musgrave ambles around her library it's almost with a sense of awe.

"I just look around and go WOW," she said.

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