Former Yacolt jail/town hall transformed into rural library annex

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Yacolt Library Express

For more information, call 360-906-5106.

YACOLT — Two months after Beth Townsend made her final bookmobile run to Yacolt, she helped open a new chapter in the town's library history.

The Fort Vancouver Regional Library District has converted a century-old building into a new resource for North County patrons. The former jail and town hall now is home to the Yacolt Library Express.

During the move-in a couple of weeks ago, boxes of books were unloaded in the lobby, between two doors. To the left, a metal jail door with a barred window led to a wing of three 6-foot-by-8-foot cells.

The door to the right opened into the 400-square-foot library facility. The shelves have room for about 2,500 items -- mainly books and DVDs, with some audio materials.

It's a mostly a general interest collection for browsers, said Sam Wallin, the district's rural services coordinator.

The site had a "soft" opening a week ago, giving district officials a chance to see how things worked. On the first day -- Tuesday, Sept. 4 -- 49 people walked in and checked out 111 items, Wallin said.

The card-scanner entry system that unlocks the front door wasn't ready for the initial run of visitors, so Wallin or Julie Erickson will be at the Yacolt Library Express from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, until the automated system is ready.

Once the system is operational, library district cardholders will be able to unlock the front door by running their library card through the scanner. The card scanner will work from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Fridays through Sundays.

In addition to browsing through the Yacolt collection, cardholders can pick up items they have reserved. They can access the library's research databases and other online resources, and use a dedicated telephone line to talk with staff at the downtown Vancouver library.

Once things settle into a routine, the library express is scheduled to be staffed twice a week, in two-hour shifts: 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and 1-3 p.m. Thursdays.

The express format brings library services back to Yacolt after the Clark County bookmobile was retired at the end of June. Townsend, the former bookmobile driver who transferred into another district job, volunteered for the move-in crew.

"I wanted to help do the set-up," Townsend said. "I wanted to be part of this. I'm interested in the transition from bookmobile service, and seeing how this turns out."

Jan Shaul, a local resident, sees a big advantage in access and hours. The bookmobile made weekly daytime visits, "which is OK for some people, but not a lot of people," she said.

The closest community library is in Battle Ground.

"That's 15 miles away --and I live on the south side of Yacolt," Shaul said.

And those aren't freeway miles, particularly if you get behind a school bus or a logging truck, Shaul said.

Shaul is a member of a new group, Friends of Library Express, that will support the facility and its programs. The group will be part of a grand opening scheduled for Oct. 20, but they also plan to do some grass-roots promotion for the new site.

Mention it to some people, Shaul said, and their reaction is: "'Oh, are we getting a new library?'

"Most people know the bookmobile is gone, but they haven't kept up with what's going on," she said.