KEEP LIBRARIES OPEN

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Last Monday I went downtown to the Central Public Library in Minneapolis to return an overdue book. I walked into the 4-story atrium, turned to my right in an attempt to enter the bookkeeping space, and found the doors locked. After a good tug and a sweeping look around me for an alternate route, I casually walked away pretending I knew the doors wouldn’t open and trying not to look like a complete moron. But before I walked back outside I realized a brochure filled table with a sign that read: KEEP LIBARIES OPEN. I took a pamphlet and began to read of budget cuts and reduced funding that forced the library to shut its doors on Mondays.

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The beautifully innovative new Central Public Library, just off Nicollet Ave, was designed by notorious architect Caésar Pelli in association with the Minneapolis firm Architectural Alliance. The 353,000 square foot facility, finished in 2006, cost $125 Million with most expenses ($110 Million) covered by the 2000 Library Referendum in addition to a few donations. The building features dramatic cantilevers, “combination of transparent and translucent glass with seasonal Minnesota imagery such as water, snow, trees and prairie grass?, and is topped off by an 18,560 sq. foot green roof.

Although the building looks stunning and incorporates striking Minnesota trademarks into its design, as the solution to a referendum I feel it’s beginning to fail. If the doors don’t open to allow public usage of its 300 computers, Upper Midwest’s largest children’s collection, and 3 million item compilation of books, DVDs, music, government documents, etc (the country’s 3rd highest per capita), the library is simply put, ineffective.

In a monumental step towards better library access, on January 1, 2008 all 41 libraries located in Hennepin County combined forces to create one strong system containing 1,600 public computers and over 5 million items that serve a potential 1.1 Million customers. This is a positive act that shows the library network as a whole is moving in the right direction, but that doesn’t solve the problem in downtown Minneapolis where majority of the system’s information is housed.

To better understand the problem we’re encountering take a look at the Public Library System of Arlington, Texas (a geographical area with roughly the same population as Minneapolis). The George E. Hawkes Central Library is open 57 hours/week during the summer months and 61 hours/week from September to May, compared to our dismal 44 hours year round. In addition, the seven-library system of Arlington doesn’t contain a library that’s open less than 52 hours a week.

In my opinion our current system is broken. It doesn’t pay to keep 41 libraries open if they are scraping to get by. Instead, the Hennepin County Library system needs to consolidate their resources into at least half the number of buildings in an attempt to make their materials more readily available, and elongate their hours at every location.
Current attempts to solve the library budget woes are not focusing on consolidation, but rather generating enough funding from the government and donations in an attempt to sustain the crippled system.

Is the attempt wrongful? Absolutely not. Are there better ways to go about it? Yes! But at this point, the best we can do is help them in their fight. To get involved at your local library sign up for more information (http://www.friendsofmpl.org/support_advocate.html) and be sure to stop down at the Central Library, pick up a “KEEP LIBRARIES OPEN? pin, and sport it on you book bag or jacket as I’ve done.

2 Comments

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This page contains a single entry by Benjamin Tully published on February 13, 2008 11:27 PM.

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