What’s new at two of Walla Walla’s libraries?

Sebastian Squire, News Reporter

Photo by Andy the Photographer.

Located just a few blocks away from Whitman campus, the Walla Walla Public library is housed in a 52-year-old building. The age of this building can show, as it leaks when it snows and grass grows in the aging window frames. 

Library Director at the Walla Walla Public Library Erin Wells discussed that the failing roof and windows pose a risk to the collection.

“We have holes in the ceiling that leak every year,” Wells said.

Wells wants to modernize the library to better reflect the changing needs of the community, as those needs have changed since the library was first constructed. She sees the need for a community space where people can gather, including an expanded program area, several smaller meeting rooms, study rooms and a makerspace.

The makerspace planning is still in its early stages, but Wells sees it as a place for hands-on learning. 

“I’ve seen three makerspaces with tools, like all sorts of heavy machinery-type tools. I think we’d need to talk to the community members more and find out what their needs are,” Wells said. “I know, at least, that it would be a more messy area for programs.”

Another aim of the proposal is environmental sustainability. A publicly available presentation on future library design plans displays a desire for the addition of solar panels and water collection systems. 

According to Wells, libraries typically double the number of users when they first reopen following major renovations. Library officials have maintained that the increased usage will not result in a need for more staff, due to the open floor plan in the proposal allowing librarians to see much of the building from the circulation desk.

The nearly $24 million plan was unveiled to the City Council on November 14, 2022. The renovations include adding 5,000 square feet and completely redesigning much of the structure. 

Walla Walla City Council Member and Mayor Tom Scribner disclosed that he is in support of the project in principle.

“I think that at this early stage there is City Council support,” Scribner said. “When it gets down to where is the money going to come from and how much is going to be from the city . . . there may be some more serious questioning from City Council members who are legitimately concerned, as we all are, with expenses.”

On Whitman’s campus, the Penrose Library is welcoming its new director, Ping Fu, on March 1.

Fu has served as an Associate Professor and Head of Library Technology Services at Central Washington University (CWU) since 2011. He was promoted to a full tenured professor position in 2016.

Although he initially thought that he would stay at CWU until his retirement, he changed his mind when offered the directorial position at Whitman.

“This is a library leadership position that allows me to advance my career,” Fu said. “This position allows me to work with all librarians and staff, engage with and serve a variety of user groups at Whitman and develop programs and services that meet their unique needs.”

In addition to a master’s degree in Library and Information Services, Fu holds a MS in Computer Science and a MA in East Asian Studies.

“I had extensive work experience in the computer industry in China,” Fu said. “Today’s libraries are incorporating technology into their programs and services in a variety of ways. I hope my background in technology will help me work with librarians and staff at Penrose Library to incorporate technology into library programs and services.”

He lists building relationships, expanding library services, improving the physical space of the library, building a culture of innovation and collaboration and cementing the library’s role as a center for learning as his key priorities.

“My goal as the new library director is to build on the library’s existing strengths and position it as a vital resource for the campus community,” Fu said. “By working closely with [community members], I believe that we can achieve this goal and continue to improve the library’s services and resources for years to come.”