It only makes sense that discussions about expanding the Lawrence Public Library also include a second look at the former Carnegie library at Ninth and Vermont and the literacy center proposed for that building.
The Carnegie building has been vacant since the Lawrence Arts Center moved to its new location almost three years ago. After hearing from a number of community groups with proposed uses for the building, the Lawrence City Commission agreed to pursue a proposal for a community literacy center that would pay tribute to former Lawrence resident Langston Hughes.
On Tuesday, the literacy center planners told city commissioners they had been unable to attract any grant money to move their project forward, but would continue to seek grants in hope of getting to work on the center in 2006. In the meantime, the city has spent considerable money to shore up the structure and agreed Tuesday to spend additional money to make the building conform with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
At the same time, commissioners said that although they had made a commitment to the literacy center, they wanted both that project and the Carnegie building to be included in discussions about possible expansion of the Lawrence Public Library. Considering the obvious ties between literacy and the library, including both of these topics in a comprehensive library plan seems like a natural.
The inability of the literacy center to move forward this year may actually be a blessing in disguise. The idea of a center that not only encourages reading but sponsors other activities in the areas of literature and the humanities is a good one. But the organizers' inability to find quick funding for the center may indicate that it would be an ongoing struggle to raise enough money to keep the center in operation.
How much more sense might it make to fold the mission of the literacy center, and perhaps the Carnegie building as well, into planning for expanded library services in Lawrence? The buildings are less than two blocks apart, with parking in between. The programs envisioned for the literacy center are compatible with, if not identical to, some of the ideas being considered for expanded library services. Perhaps it even makes sense to include the literacy center as part of a new library structure at some new location, a building designed with the flexibility to meet the changing needs of both the library and literacy center.
Given the delay in obtaining funding to move their project forward, organizers of the literacy center should have no objection to exploring the idea of coordinating their vision with that of an expanded Lawrence Public Library. The result might be an effort that reaches more people and is more financially sustainable than their original idea.