Chehalis Library Drive-Through a Popular Option

Big Macs, Frappuccinos and cash withdrawals are just a sliding Plexiglas window away in virtually any town in the Pacific Northwest. But drive-through sustenance for the mind? That’s only available at the Vernetta Smith Chehalis Timberland Library.

The convenient pick-up option — the only one of its kind in the state — drew 1,267 cars, containing 1,683 people and 34 dogs to the library in October, an increase in traffic of about 15 percent over the same month in 2011.

The window has been highly utilized since it opened as part of the Chehalis library’s new building, which was completed in late 2008. But lately, the window has proven so popular that other libraries, including one in Eastern Washington, will soon build their own drive-throughs, based on Chehalis’ model, according to Library Manager Corine Aiken.

“It offers another point of service, and it’s been fabulously successful,” Aiken said.

Inspiration for the window came about when the library staff began to brainstorm ways to increase library access in the soon-to-be-rebuilt library.

Tricky location

“We thought, since we’re located on a hill and there’s not a lot of parking, people with young children in strollers and folks who have difficulty walking could perhaps use a drive up window,” the director said. “It’s giving patrons another option as to how to access the library.”

Attached to the back of the library’s new building, the drive-through is utilized both by those who can’t get out of their cars and those who just don’t feel like it. And in addition to providing easy access, the window has become a gateway between two thriving, but often separate communities of library users.

Those who most often utilize the library through the web — the e-library community — can use the drive-through to pick up DVDs and in-print books, things that can be reserved but not accessed through the internet. They also can talk to library staff, who might be able to provide answers that Google cannot.

While the drive-through is a relatively new idea, the ability to adapt is old hat for libraries, according to Aiken.

“When public libraries first started out, the idea was that libraries should provide uplifting reading to improve people, but look at what we’ve evolved into. I’m not sure that the folks who originally saw libraries would recognize them now,” Aiken said. “Libraries have always been responsive to what their communities need.”

On Tuesday afternoon — the first weekday for the library which is closed Sunday and Monday — Circulation Assistant Angie Van Camp worked without pause at the drive-through window, handing out library materials to a steady stream of cars.

Faster pace

Work at the window is faster paced and more physical than re-shelving or working at the reference desk, but customers appreciate the effort, according to Van Camp.

“They love it. They really do,” she said. “Elderly people who have a difficult time getting in here, people who just want to get on to the next thing in their day, moms with kids who don’t want to unbuckle a bunch of car seats — they love it.”

While Van Camp hands out a variety of materials, the most popular medium is still the written word.

“DVDs are super popular,” she said. “But people are still reading books.”