Key Center Library Welcomes Visitors

A world of wonder and connection awaits inside this beloved library where everyone belongs.


After over a year of adapting to changes brought on by the pandemic, including building closures, curbside service, materials quarantine, online service and virtual programs expansion, and the suspension of overdue fines and print charges, the Pierce County Library System has reopened its buildings to the public. The Key Center Library began providing very limited in-person services in late April 2021, then fully reopened on July 8, 2021, welcoming visitors inside to browse for books and movies, pick up holds, use the computers and printers, and connect to Wi-Fi.

“The first people to come through the door, there were happy dances and celebrations,” said Key Center’s Supervising Librarian Tim Sage.

“More than one of our adults were a little teary-eyed. Getting to browse library material in the building, just being physically in the building was an emotional moment for some users,” said Youth Services Specialist Barbie Swayze. “Within the first couple weeks of us opening, one young man, probably young elementary age, stood in the door and said, ‘It’s just like I remember it.’ ”

Key Center Library is now open 42 hours a week and continues to offer curbside service, as well as online and virtual programming. Back in 2019, the library was open 43 hours a week and an average of 187 people visited each day it was open. In October 2021, an average of 121 people visited the library each open day.

“These numbers only include people who actually come through the door, so it doesn’t count people using curbside services,” said Sage, who joined the Key Center Library staff in March 2021, bringing with him 27 years of library experience.

Sage grew up in Michigan where he began his career in high school as a page, an entry-level library position. He later fell in love with the Pacific Northwest while visiting the area with his wife. Four years ago, they moved to Puget Sound and Sage became branch manager at the PCLS Parkland-Spanaway location.

“That first year, my wife and I visited all the libraries and just kind of fell in love with Key Peninsula, the Key Center Library, and always had it in the back of my mind that this might be someplace I wanted to end up,” he said.

Sage said “the connection that the community has with the library has been amazing to see” since the building reopened. “It was very intimidating the first couple of months. Every person who came through the door, it felt like every other staff knew exactly who they were, what they like to read, what their kids were doing, the name of their dog.”

Like Sage, Swayze began her library career as an entry-level page and brings years of experience to her position at Key Center. Before transferring from the Steilacoom branch in December 2020, she had worked at various PCLS branches as a customer experience specialist and spent 12 years in the IT department.

“When I’d had enough of thinking technically, I got a wild hair and put in for a storyteller position,” she said. “I got a job at Steilacoom and worked there for about a year and a half and then Covid happened, and the transfer began, but every day I would go to work and think, ‘I am getting paid to read picture books to small children!’

“I feel a little disconnected from that same level of joy that I felt before because I’m not able to do the in-building programming with the children,” she said. “We all know it’s coming back at some point, but there’s no date to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Even though steps remain before PCLS is back to its pre-pandemic level of service, Key Center Library staff are ready to help. Whether it’s with technology or printing needs, placing a hold or finding a book, handing out free at-home Covid tests, or providing information about online services and virtual programs, they look forward to welcoming more visitors and continuing to see long-time patrons returning to the library.

“There’s an eagerness to solve people’s problems, answer their questions, be the person who helped them that day,” Swayze said. “I see that in all of our staff, happy to be interacting. Almost every day someone mentions how thankful they are to be back in the library,” she said.

Masks continue to be required inside PCLS buildings for ages 5 and up. Wi-Fi access was recently expanded to the edges of the parking lot, allowing visitors to connect from their vehicles.