A recent editorial in the Lincoln Journal Star (Library plan is ambitious, raises questions, LJS, June 17) directs questions to the Lincoln Library Board concerning the ongoing effort to build a new central library for Lincoln.
It is undeniable that Bennett Martin Public Library no longer serves the needs of this community. Twenty-first century libraries are much more than books. They nurture early literacy so children become readers, support students in school, provide computers and broadband for people from all walks of life and create a kind of community center that is focused on literacy, literature and education. Even in this era of eBooks and smartphones, Lincoln’s libraries checked out more than 2 million print items last year.
The Library Board, which is charged by law with overseeing the facilities, has been pushing for a new library since the beginning of this century. The block occupied by Pershing seems a reasonable choice. A local business organization has opposed a new library on this site, and has urged the city to virtually give the block to the private sector so it can go "back on the tax rolls." As this paper pointed out, there is little reason to believe that the location is a “prime development opportunity.” And any private development will be dependent on some type of public financing. Block 63, the home of Pershing, has been public property since the city was platted in 1867, and the board believes it should continue to be used for public purposes.
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Block 63 is on Centennial Mall, it anchors the east part of downtown, is in the middle of rapidly expanding residential development and it provides ideal pedestrian traffic, which would be very desirable for a new library. The central library service area has a larger population than any of the quadrant branches, nearly 60,000, with the lowest per capita income of those areas. The central library also serves the 30,000 people who work in the downtown area. Libraries themselves have proven to be economic engines in communities throughout the country.
A comparison was made of the cost of a new library to the bonds sought for the arena. The arena is used for entertainment, while libraries are a vital component of public education system, which has always been an obligation of local government. Entertainment is a legitimate goal of city development and should not be removed from the picture. However, education should be considered essential, and not an option. The total cost of the arena was in excess of $300 million; it provides entertainment to a select group of people. Libraries are open to all citizens, regardless of income, and connect us to the world of knowledge and ideas. Well-educated citizens have long been the backbone of our democracy. The ultimate cost of a new central library will be a fraction of the cost of the arena.
As part of the due diligence required of the Library Board to provide the public with updated descriptions and costs for a new facility, the board recently published a Request For Proposal (RFP) for a Building Program for a new central library. Private funds have been designated for this purpose. The Building Program is a document that develops the requirements of the library based on the services it provides our community, including spaces and their sizes. It incorporates public input and is the next step to estimate overall building size and expected costs, regardless of location. Building plans and drawings are not part of this proposal.
The Library Board believes in a continuing community conversation regarding a new central library, and we welcome all thoughts and suggestions. Lincoln is a first-class city, and its citizens are entitled to first-class 21st century library services.
If there is any doubt about the value of libraries, one of the first things ISIS does is destroy the libraries, and one of the first things Hitler did was burn the books.
Herb Friedman is president of the Lincoln City Libraries Board of Trustees.