‘Book vending machines’ coming to Eastside, Hilltop, which lost libraries to budget cuts

Library services are making a slow return to Tacoma’s Eastside.

A “microlibrary” will open Saturday in partnership with Tacoma Public Library and Metro Parks at the Eastside Community Center.

The “microlibrary” is an interactive kiosk — like a Redbox, so to speak — where people can choose to borrow from a list of nearly 500 items using their Tacoma Public Library card.

It’s the first of its kind in Western Washington. One is currently operating in Spokane.

“The microlibrary lets people check out books, DVDs and museum passes,” outreach librarian Jamie Gilmore said.

People are limited to checking out three books, three DVDs and one museum pass at one time.

Gilmore also will provide programming for all ages at the community center. So far, people are asking for story-time gatherings and book clubs, she said.

The city of Tacoma approved $200,000 for the Eastside microlibrary as part of its 2019-20 biennial budget for a total of $500,000 dedicated to the two microlibraries. The Hilltop location has not been determined, according to library staff.

Swan Creek Library on the Eastside and Martin Luther King Jr. Library in Hilltop both closed due to budget cuts in 2011.

On November 20, 2018, when City Council addressed the 2019-20 budget proposal, Hilltop residents spoke about the need for a brick-and-mortar library rather than a kiosk.

“I would ask, invest in a real brick-and-mortar library in the Hilltop and don’t ask us to accept anything less,” said one speaker.

“Now there’s going to be some kind of book vending machine … instead of a brick-and-mortar library. That’s not even going to come close to addressing our equity and access problem,” said another speaker.

At the same meeting, Councilman Keith Blocker said the microlibrary was never meant as a “perfect solution.”

“The idea was always meant to immediately address the disparities in the resources while we move forward with the feasibility study to identify what areas have the most need for library resources,” Blocker said. “The feasibility will take time, and this is a step forward we can take forward in the meantime.”

The city is actively looking into the creation of a brick-and-mortar library, said Tacoma Public Library spokeswoman Mariesa Bus.

“We realize (the microlibrary) does not replace a brick-and-mortar library, but this is one way that we’re reaching back out and getting services and materials to those in those communities,” Bus said.

The microlibrary is located inside the Eastside Community Center near the front information desk. A drop-box for library items also was installed outside the center this week and will accept all library items.

Art by local artist Dionne Bonner is displayed on the microlibrary to make it welcoming and inviting, Bus said.

A grand opening for the microlibrary will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday (Sept. 28) at the Eastside Community Center,1721 E. 56th St.