Not long ago, a Lawrence city commissioner said he wanted a new or redesigned city library that would be looked upon as a “signature” building.
This raises several questions. Does the current City Commission want a building that will be known for years to come as a credit to those at City Hall who gave their final OK to the structure? Do they want a building that will be known as a signature structure for the architects who designed it? Do they want the building to be remembered for its cost or possibly how much the costs exceeded original projections?
Do they want it known and remembered as the project that forced a “temporary” library to be used for one, two or three years before the new, remodeled, renovated and expanded building was ready for public use? And are there other “signature” elements of this building, such as designing it for current library needs and uses rather than for what those using a “library” 15 or 20 years from now will want in the way of location, services and facilities?
One knowledgeable and experienced architect told this writer he was shocked at what has been proposed and apparently agreed upon by city commissioners. He said the public has been presented a pretty drawing but that it is an “unbelievable” bad solution for a new or expanded library.
He said costs are likely to be awesome, probably more than an entirely new building would cost and more than the cost of two branch libraries on the east and west sides of town. He said the idea of expanding the current building on each side, rather than adding a major wing or extension to the south, causes all kinds of costs and troubles with new foundations, footings, new electrical, new rooflines, new mechanical, new exterior walls and a total disruption of the library.
City commissioners have asked for public comments on the plan, and this writer has received many, apparently because some very knowledgeable people, who don’t want their names to be known, are extremely disappointed with what the city and its residents are buying — or what they will get for the millions of dollars that will be spent and borrowed.
Some commissioners have said the public has spoken and it is too late to make any changes. But is it?
One critic said it is “incredible” what is being shoved down the throats of Lawrence residents and taxpayers. Others have said several city commissioners are “totally off-base” on this project, while others have said it is important the project be done as currently planned in order to support the downtown. There are many who continue to favor the idea of branch library facilities and question the City Commission argument that staffing expenses would be too great.
Another comment: “They (city commissioners) claim the public has spoken, but does that mean we are supposed to turn off our brains? It would be better to tear down the entire structure and build a new facility without all the constraints imposed by trying to work around the current facility, making additions on all sides, rather than to add one major expansion to the south of the building.”
Another critic questioned whether this project has been driven by downtown developers rather than what is in the best interests of the city. What will the people of Lawrence want and need in the not-so-distant future?
A columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently wrote, “In its heyday, Borders accounted for more than 12 percent of the books sold in America. Barnes and Noble (which now accounts for 30 percent of book sales) and independent book sellers (10 percent) will pick up some of the business. Amazon will pick up most of the rest, either in paper or Kindle versions, which now outsell physical books on its site.”
The columnist, Kevin Horrigan, continues, “The scariest thing about all of this is how little it matters to an increasing number of people … nearly half of people ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure. Among college seniors, in 2005, 61 percent said they either don’t read for pleasure at all or did so for less than an hour a week.”
What does this say about future libraries? What kind of library should city officials, architects and visionary and knowledgeable people in the library field be calling for in Lawrence?
If Lawrence is to have a “signature” library, let’s make sure it gains that designation because of its innovations, location, design, cost and ability to meet the needs of patrons for years to come and not because it lacked vision and input from individuals respected for their knowledge of future trends in the library business.
What’s the old saying about trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?