"We want to think big," Bruce Flanders, director of the Lawrence Public Library told an audience last week.
Flanders is right; now is the time to dream about the possibilities for a new public library. Get all of the wishes out on the table, but don't expect all of them to come true. At some point, choices will have to be made so the library can focus on its core mission to the community and not duplicate services that are available elsewhere.
During a meeting sponsored by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce last week, Flanders stirred the audience's creative juices by showing slides of new and updated libraries in other cities in the Midwest. The public will have more opportunities to comment on what they want to see in the new library during a number of upcoming meetings. The first is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital auditorium.
The fact that the library auditorium already was booked and unavailable for Monday's meeting points up one important need for a new library: public meeting space. The library auditorium and gallery rooms are two of only a handful of public meeting spaces available to groups without a charge. Expanding free meeting space for community groups should be a top priority for the new library design.
Other suggestions also came up at last week's meeting. Could plans for the Langston Hughes Literacy Center be folded into planning for a new library? This seems like a natural fit and a wonderful idea. Could the library partner with Watkins Community Museum of History and perhaps house some Watkins collection of local historical materials? Cataloging those materials and making them more accessible to the public would be a great service for the library to provide.
The Lawrence Public Library always has been a popular place for local artists to show their work. While that tradition should be continued, expanded gallery space may not be the best place for the library to direct resources, given the expanded art display space now available at the Lawrence Arts Center, just a few blocks away.
Coffee shops have been a popular addition to many new libraries. As Flanders said last week, coffee and books just seem to go together. More and more coffee shops cater to readers, and book stores cater to coffee drinkers. It could be argued that downtown Lawrence has enough coffee shops, but the new state-of-the-art library in Seattle includes a coffee shop even though there is a Starbucks or some other coffee shop on almost every corner. A coffee shop in the Lawrence Public Library is worth considering.
The task force that is formulating plans for a new library already has narrowed its focus to keeping the library at its current site, rather than considering other downtown or outlying locations. That decision probably is good for downtown but it creates some parking and access challenges. Seeking creative solutions is a good idea, but the task force might be well advised to keep an open mind about relocating the library if parking solutions become too difficult or expensive.
The opportunity to build a new public library doesn't come along often. Lawrence residents now have the opportunity to plan a library that will serve not only their needs but the needs of local people for decades to come. Local residents shouldn't miss this opportunity to make their wishes known.