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What do a Kingston library director and Indiana Jones have in common?

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By Mike Gibson

If Steve Jacks were writing a book about this portion of his tenure as Kingston’s director of library services, it would be an adventure story, maybe even a thriller, with just a touch of science fiction thrown in for good measure.

Fighting the ravages of an aging building and a perpetually recalcitrant air-conditioning unit, he stretches his limited budget like Indiana Jones stretching a desperate arm across the face of a sheer stone cliff — all while keeping up with the latest in whodathunkit library technology, with offerings like e-books and online classes now being provided to library patrons.

“It is hard sometimes, because the building is about 20 years old, the age where buildings usually start having problems,” said Jacks. “We’re trying to do some renovation.”

Jacks is quick to point out that Kingston City Council has been helpful to his cause; he has no complaints about the city’s stewardship.

Still, it’s tough going in such hard economic times.

Right now, the city allocates about $203,000 to the library every year. That’s its main source of income.

Jacks said the library also generates a little through its foundation. That money usually goes to buy books. It also receives about $2,500 from the county, which is allocated toward matching-grant funds.

More recently, the city and the library received a $150,000 grant the library had applied for in 2009 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The catch is that $122,500 of the loan must be repaid over a 39-year period. City Council plans to discuss how the loan and its repayment will take place in September.

Should it all go through as planned, Jacks already has a priorities list for the funds — library bathrooms need to be better equipped for the physically challenged; lighting and insulation needs to be updated; and acoustic ceiling tile needs to be added.

And then, of course, there is the issue of the heating and air, which Jacks said has been causing problems on and off for more than two years now.

“The unit is nine or 10 years old, which shouldn’t be a problem,” Jacks said. “But we’ve had repair people out every day for two for three weeks. Those two weeks it was like 96 degrees every day. It got kind of uncomfortable in here.

“We usually don’t close for anything,” he continued. “But one Monday, we actually did close a couple hours early. It was 88 in here. There’s no windows to open up in the building, so we depend on the air conditioning to circulate air.”

Fortunately, the two e-book readers Jacks recently purchased for the library weren’t terribly expensive, at around $150 apiece. Jacks said he purchased them so the staff could familiarize themselves with the units, then teach patrons.

“One of the reasons we bought them is that we have access to the state e-books site,” he said. “Last time I looked, we had the third highest number of e-books checked out in our region.”

Later, Jacks said he hopes to download classics and loan out the units themselves.

At some point, he’d like to have genre-specific e-books, such as for mystery and romance.

“That would be a big thing in years to come, and we want to keep up with the trends,” he said. “And you can buy e-books a whole lot cheaper than regular books.”

Jacks said the library is also adding programs that would allow patrons to take classes online. One of the programs would enable patrons to take as many as 500 different classes, including subjects ranging from computer science to bartending.