I’m thinking this is a good time to talk about our new downtown library.
And not just because my overdue fines are creeping up again and I’m looking for an executive pardon from Pat Leach, Lincoln City Libraries director.
But because books. Books and computers and cubby holes for studying and tables for two where a new American is learning English from an old hand.
Because knowledge. Because libraries are better than prisons. Because maybe if we all spent more time in libraries, we’d spend less time clicking on conspiracy theories on Facebook.
I spent a weekend in Southern California recently, where it never rains, but it does pour -- don’t they warn you -- which is how I ended up in a public library, six blocks from a fogged-in ocean.
The little Hermosa Beach Library reminded me of my childhood visits to the South Branch Library in Lincoln, that low brick building built in the days of “Dick and Jane” that opened up a whole new world, or at least the Kansas prairie where Laura Ingalls lived with Pa and Ma and Mary.
That Los Angeles County space was bright and welcoming, a pair of librarians behind the counter, helping little girls in need of library cards and selling a pair of Nebraskans four paperback books at 50 cents each.
I like visiting libraries when I travel and cities seem to like to show them off -- New York City’s Fifth Avenue book repository with its marble lions, Patience and Fortitude, guarding the entrance to the third-largest library in the world.
The sharp-angled library in downtown Seattle, where you can drink lattes in the lobby, play the trumpet in the soundproof music rooms and stare down at the city from the glass walls of the 10th floor.
Leach likes to check out libraries when she’s traveling, too, and as she’s thinking about what a new central library in Lincoln might look like.
There’s a great newish library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she said. And another updated and expanded library in Lawrence, Kansas, both of them light-filled and lovely.
Lincoln will get a new library, too, one of these days.
They’d hoped to get a bond issue on the ballot in the fall election, Leach said, but that’s not happening.
On Wednesday, she wasn’t ready to offer an updated opportunity for citizens to vote for literacy (and free parking for patrons).
“I would say hard at work behind the scenes, ascertaining a site and a time frame.”
I know. We’ve talked about this before, a long public debate with differing ideas about how to replace Bennett Martin. (May it please be reborn as a coffee house-art gallery-yoga studio-taffy shop with a community garden in the courtyard.)
But we can never talk too much about books and ideas and public spaces that make us a better, smarter and more egalitarian community.
The many uses of the modern library -- a million downloads away from Ben Franklin’s lending library of 1731 -- are part of their enduring beauty.
And downtown is still the place for the most prominent brick and mortar tribute to reading.
“Especially, in a city like Lincoln, where the downtown is a big part of the city and needs to be strong,” Leach said
If you draw a circle with a 2-mile radius around each of the city’s four largest libraries, the biggest number of potential readers surround Bennett Martin, Leach says. (Can we have parking at Pershing?)
Our libraries scored a solid 4 on a scale of 5 in the city’s Taking Charge survey last year, although 30 percent of respondents said they had not visited a library in 2017. (This number hopefully includes those who only check out books electronically for their Kindles.)
I’ve re-committed myself to the library in the past few years, as I’ve pared down my book-buying and axed my internet service.
One day there will be a bond issue for a new library. (And, heads up, it will include money for improvements to the branches, both physical and technological.)
While you wait for your special ballot box pencil, consider this: Libraries create community, foster learning, allow access to technology, space for meetings, help with tax returns, bathroom pit stops, sheet music for musicians, reference material for scholars, story times for kids.
Plus they are crammed with books and smell like paper.
And if you are heading to the Los Angeles area soon, may I recommend a stop at the Hermosa Beach library?
San Diego has a cool downtown library as well, Leach said.
As does Austin, Texas, although she has yet to see it in person.
“I’ll have to take a field trip one of these days.”