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Books and bites

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

First the vending machines arrived — all three of them. The chairs and tables arrived mid-June.

The machines are located in an alcove off the copy machine area. Right outside the alcove are two sleek, metallic-gray Art Nouveau-style cafe tables with matching chairs. Patrons can take their munchies and drinks with them — anywhere except near the computers.

King County Library System’s Food for Thought cafes are being piloted for one year at three libraries — first Bellevue Regional, where the project kicked off in April, then Redmond Regional, and now Federal Way Regional Library.

Elizabeth Risser, spokeswoman for the library system, said libraries “need to continually reinvent our services to better serve the public and stay relevant to their needs.”

She said the food program is aimed to attract “students and professionals spending a great amount of time in the libraries studying and researching, who may need a break and an energy boost.”

Patrons have adapted to the vending machines like the dispensers have “always been there,” said Judy Renzema, managing librarian at Federal Way Regional.

The three machines — one each for hot and cold beverages and one for snacks — so far are proving more popular with kids than with adult library patrons.

“I think that when school starts again, 3:30 in the afternoon is when they (kids) will make a run for it,” Renzema said.

Ali Williams, 16, has used the vending machines.

“It’s great because lots of times I have tutoring, so I get hungry and I come and get a snack or a drink,” Williams said. She thinks more libraries should have snack and drink options, because someone might get hungry or thirsty while studying. She said having hot and iced coffee options was a “great idea.”

Edward Agapov, 14, bought a hot chocolate and drank it at a cafe table. He said he bought it because “the prices looked cheap and because I was hungry and haven’t eaten for a while.”

He thinks having vending machines in the library is a good idea.

“Some people might get frustrated or hungry and then can’t work or something,” Agapov said.

“The public seems to like it (Food for Thought),” Renzema said. “It’s been advertised as being a cafe, and many people come in and it’s a vending machine.”

Only time will tell if Food for Thought will succeed. Two groups will monitor how the program does over the next year at all three libraries and whether it will stay or be pulled, Risser said. Those groups are the administrative planning team — comprised of managers of various departments, such as accounting –– and the library board, whose members are nominated for five-year terms and appointed by the county executive.

The cost of the vending machines and cafe area at Federal Way Regional Library, which is located on First Way South, was $20,000. Risser said the library system — which gets its money from taxpayers in the form of property taxes — paid for the installation of the vending machines. She also said the King County Library System Foundation, which obtains money from donors, will reimburse the library system for the installation and related costs.

Risser said Bellevue Regional Library, which has an expanded menu of salads and sandwiches, is doing very well.

“We anticipate that in about a year, we will be reimbursed for the cost of the project, and any proceeds above that will go the KCLS Foundation for funding for library programs.” Risser said.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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