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Mall Library Attracts Diverse Patronage
By Teri Tada
February 28, 2003

What would a public library be like nestled in midst of a busy mall? iSchool students got to find out during a tour of the Library Connection@Crossroads, located at Crossroads Shopping Mall in Bellevue.

Featuring bright, florescent welcome signs in various languages, a bug mobile and brightly colored cushions in the children's area, Crossroads has a unique atmosphere. Part of the King County Library System, Crossroads opened in 2001 as a new and unique concept in public library service. The library flourished, circulating over 30,000 items last December and registering 1,200 new patrons during its first four months of operation.

Connection@Crossroads has been so successful, that KCLS is expanding the space over the next few weeks and is planning a grand opening of the new, improved facility next month. The library system is also working to procure space in Southcenter Mall in Tukwila.

Many who come to Crossroads are ESL patrons. As such, the library has staff members who speak various languages, including Chinese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. Maria Ovalles, iSchool student and the KCLS staff member who conducted the tour, commented that many ESL patrons visit the library when they know a certain multilingual staff member will be on duty. The library also offers bilingual story times in Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. While none of the regular staff are librarians, the branch has a special "reference hotline" phone for tough reference questions.

Because it is located in a mall, Ovalles noted that many patrons who come into Crossroads tend to have more of a retail mentality. Some at first even mistook the library for a bookstore or asked, "What is this place about?" The library gets "a lot of kids hanging out" as well as older adult "mall walkers" but relatively few teens.

The library has twelve Internet terminals and four with children's software. Every Internet computer has its own printer, though Ovalles commented the library would be switching to networked printing soon. Because the Connection@Crossroads "experiment" has proven successful, there has been discussion of opening a similar branch at Southcenter Mall.

The students also toured Crossroads' "sister" branch, Lake Hills. It's much larger then Crossroads and a more typical public library. Many of the library's patrons are families and retired people. Lake Hills' programs include Talk Time (a chance for adult ESL learners to practice conversing in English) and a book group for children and their parents. The most unique aspect of Lake Hills is the "Teenzone" room, which houses the entire Young Adult collection. Complete with six computers, small tables for chatting, and a funky décor, it's a place where teens can get together - sometimes literally. Ovalles mentioned that YA patrons are occasionally caught making out in the Teenzone room. Fortunately, the room is within eyeshot of the circulation desk in case inappropriate behavior occurs.

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Edited by Michael Harkovitch

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