By Phyllis Izant
A relatively recent NYTimes article said this,
“It would be easy to presume that many people stumble away from a small branch library in high-minded despair thinking it only specializes in stained paperback best sellers while shelves of classic fiction are stocked with scarcely more than ‘Oliver Twist.’ Surely Borders Books and Barnes & Noble offer better browsing possibilities!”
Well, NOT so fast. It may seem that books stores seem to be supplanting libraries as gathering places where books are read and conversations begun. It may seem as if neighborhood libraries are doomed to become less compelling than a retail chain. HA! How wrong is that! Darn wrong I tell you.
This New York Times article continues…
“Remember, before the 19th century many books were simply too expensive for widespread public handling. They could no more be stocked on open shelves than masterpieces could be lent to museum goers. Libraries were private, the carefully shared collections of wealthy individuals, societies or institutions. But by the middle of the 19th century, in two places on the globe ‚Äî England and New England ‚Äî the idea of a free library open to all had fully come into its own. We have to thank the industrialist Andrew Carnegie who played a pioneering role. Between 1848 and 1875, 188 public libraries were established in the United States. By 1896, 971 public libraries had 1,000 volumes or more. During the last 20 years of the 19th century private philanthropists gave $36 million to public libraries. In their new role even the designs changed; shelves were gradually opened for public browsing.
During those years Carnegie began a project that transformed American civic life. Between 1886 and the end of World War I he spent more than $40 million building about 1,680 libraries in more than 1,400 communities across the country. He was responsible for the development of the branch system in New York City, donating more than $5.2 million to create more than 60 libraries. Many such ‚ÄúCarnegie libraries‚Äù still anchor small towns. His funds were provided only with scrupulous oversight and were contingent on the municipality making a financial commitment to stock and maintain the library.”
Well, the financial commitment and strict oversight is alive and well with the forthcoming UP library project. The thrill is back, folks…the thrill is back. From the children’s section to the teen section, to the adult section….in a few years you will be able to begin to explore, author by author, the texture of the unknown. Indeed, that possibility will soon be at hand. Sure…UP’s library space and character will end up impacted by the commercial model but – not completely. Why? Because this is a great free community library, in which the people of UP have schooled themselves and found their ambitions ennobled.
So, this is the segue to tell you that I am volunteering with the Pierce County Library system with regard to their new University Place branch which will open in the Spring 2010. Despite the challenges to the overall Towne Centre project, [hey, it’s almost impossible to tarnish the reputation of libraries, folks], the new combined city hall and library branch construction is underway, in a BIG way. All you have to do is drive by the work site on Bridgeport and you’ll see the construction site and the elevator shafts as they rise from the ground. It’s like apple pie: libraries are just good and good for ya!
For folks who love books and appreciate libraries this is a super cool project. Even though a perfectly good library was taken down, our fair city will be getting state of the art and THEN some. So…here’s the deal. There is SO much more you need to know about this project and I’m just the cheerleader to encourage you to do that.
There will be an open house at the current UP Library’s temporary location on Saturday, May 31st from 11 am to 1 pm. The library system’s architect will be there as well as the the top brass/staff. Meet Cindy Bonaro, the UP Library’s branch librarian-in-chief, see the architectural renderings, the floor plans, visual drawings of what the place will look like and check out the color samples for carpet and walls etc. Learn how the library system took public comments and ideas and put them into the library plan. Hey, zip through a coffee drive-through then stop by the temporary library and check it out. I will be there and we can ask questions together!