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Central Library - Are We Ready to Decide?

By On

Almost everyone of us has been significantly touched by the revolution of digitized information and the internet. And if you want to see what’s happening to electronic libraries, go to the Library of Congress website at www.loc.gov - pretty impressive.

So it seems to me there are some questions that should be asked about our central library proposal :

1. Isn’t the future of information storage and access really digital?
2. Do we want to spend that much money for brick and mortar that doesn’t really signficantly increase the service level, especially when compared to investing in digital storage and distribution technologies?
3. As our concerns for the environment mature, don’t we want to be doing Triple Bottom Line assessment of this and other projects?
4. Don’t we want less vehicle traffic downtown, not more?

The message is: information storage and distribution looks a lot different now and in the future than the past. We also need to be looking at environmental and sociological consequences as well.

For an investment that is supposed to serve us for a half a century or more, let’s make sure we’ve asked enough questions

About Ham Hayes

Contributor • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Comments by Readers

Hue Beattie

Feb 04, 2008

Bellingham is not very green when it wants to demolish a perfectly good and paid for building to add some extra square footage.Why not use the air space above Central Ave? Or how about a long addition up to the side walk east of the existing building and north along the slope. But the best fix would be longer hours, that would cutdown on congestion and provide for more efficient use of the library.

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Tris Shirley

Feb 05, 2008

I believe there is an argument for investing in public buildings.  I enjoy the old town hall, and even the new one.  Face it, downtown wouldn?t be all that interesting if the built environment were a row of stucco boxes.  Substantial and attractive buildings are an expression of community as much as anything else. 

That said, I wonder if building an extravagant shrine to literacy is really the best community investment we can make at this time. I use the library quite a bit, so I?m as interested as anybody in making sure the institution remains alive and well.  But to me, the main thing is that the library system works.  And for the money under discussion at the moment, one hopes it would be working well for a very long time.

However, what we have under consideration now, I fear, is a magnificent concept for the twentieth century.  News flash:  that century is now over.

We have goal after goal and policy after policy in the City?s Comprehensive Plan that is intended to move us toward a decentralized urban design. I thought we were trying to create a number of largely self contained neighborhoods where most of people?s needs could be met without much driving. Many folks have bought into this - at least enough to say ?Show me?.

Then, about a year ago, I read that we only needed a single central library because you could drive there from anywhere in town in a few minutes.  This kind of thinking is what gives government a bad name, and makes people reluctant to pay for it.  Either the City made all those goals and policies with no intention of following them, or else there is a major failure of administration.

Looking forward, instead of backward, we ought to be exploring ways to decentralize everything. And a re-invented library is a red hot opportunity for the City to exercise leadership and demonstrate that decentralization works.  The technology exists.  The need exists.  There is plenty of interest and support.  We are not asking for miracles. 

Let?s reconsider the existing plan, and change it to something compatible with the future.  Then let?s estimate the costs, and if we can afford a system that works and a nice new building for the downtown branch, well, fine.

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Larry Horowitz

Feb 05, 2008

Excellent comment, Tris.  Thanks.

You have identified yet another disconnect between our vision for Bellingham and the path we are currently on.  This disconnect exists in so many areas, it makes one wonder if there is anyone actually steering this ship, or whether we are simply rudderless.

Before Pike was elected, it was clear we were rudderless (or being actively steered off-course).  Many, including myself, hope that Pike will maneuver us back on course.  On the UGA, I believe he has.  The problem: so many disconnects, so little time.

Bellingham has a great wealth of visionaries who have imagined a potentially wonderful future city and region.  What we need are people who can implement this vision and these goals without constantly working at cross-purposes.

Tris, in your opinion, why haven’t we been more successful in actually implementing our vision?  Does the left hand not know what the right hand is doing?  Not care?  Not agree?

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Rick Anderson

Feb 05, 2008

Has an actual study been done on the feasibility of branch libraries and a central storage/distribution facility, or is this concept being dismissed because it’s not what “we” want?

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Tris Shirley

Feb 06, 2008

I don?t have much insight into the workings - or non-workings - of our government and related agencies and commissions.  In particular, I have stayed out of the library debate until now.  So I really don?t know the facts. Like most people, I suspect, I just sit around hoping that somehow common sense will prevail.  Then, when media coverage makes it evident that common sense has been trampled again, I get upset and start lobbing rhetorical bricks.

My mode of operation isn?t particularly fair to those who have been engaged in detailed work on the issue for years and who probably feel they are providing a great public service for little or no compensation.  But those working on this issue signed up to represent the interests of the community. If they failed to do so effectively, it is better - and potentially a lot cheaper - to point out the failure late in the process than to ignore it.

The role of the public under the Asmundson administration was to endorse plans made by the important people and otherwise stay out of the way.  It occurs to me that we will be living under the former mayor?s influence for some time - even though he is gone.

I suspect, therefore, the decision to build a new central library was made some time ago.  (Or maybe it really was the parking lot angle.) Since then, I suspect the main task has been to collect data to justify that decision.  If a distributed design was ever seriously considered, it was to find reasons not do it.

If, despite the prospect of declining revenues, and the prospect of huge future costs related to urban center development, the Council thinks we are also willing to pay for a civic ego trip, and if the facts justify my suspicions, then perhaps it is time for a referendum.  If there were evidence of inadequate diligence in evaluating alternatives to the current proposal,  it would certainly be justified.

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Larry Horowitz

Feb 06, 2008

Thanks for your insights, Tris.  I always appreciate your perspective.  I agree that Asmundson?s influence will be apparent for some time, at least as long as his department heads remain entrenched.  Perhaps Pike?s administrative skills may enable him to create synergy while reducing turf battles.

If the library recommendation is truly flawed, it will likely be defeated at the ballot box, without the need for a referendum.  Unfortunately, between the potential library fiasco, the waterfront money pit, and the UGA tragedy, it is readily apparent that our decision makers need better advice than they are currently getting.

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