Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Walker Library III

Above: Current Walker Library interior

Uptown is getting a new Walker Library, and the Library powers-that-be want your input on what it should include. Meetings are scheduled for July 11 (2:00 – 3:30 pm) and July 16 (6:30 – 8:00 pm) if you want to get involved in the discussion.

Some Walker Library history in a nutshell: the first Walker Library, located across the street from the current building, was built for $45,000 in 1911. It provided local residents with access to books, as well as served as gathering place for the larger community. In the 1960s, discussion began about building a new library; things moved slowly then, too, and construction did not begin until 1979. The new library – the one we still have today – was designed to be energy-efficient. It opened for business in 1981.

Fast-forward twenty-plus years. In the early to mid-2000s there was discussion about the possibility of a new, mixed-use building on the site. (read Greco’s 2005 proposal here) Despite extensive community discussion, in the end nothing happened. The library is still here today, it’s still underground, and while there have been some changes, it still feels overall pretty much the same as it did ten, even twenty years ago. I’m assuming that the proposed new library will be free-standing and not part of a mixed-use development, but please post a comment below if you have information to the contrary.

Some thoughts and a wish list for the new library:

I support a free-standing structure. In most cases I like the idea of mixed-use developments. I think it helps add appropriate density, and in turns enhances the vitality of a neighborhood. It also increases the housing options available. In the case of a library, however, I think mixed-use is the wrong way to go. That goes doubly in a neighborhood that is in desperate need for public iconic gathering places. Uptown doesn’t even have a post office. There is no high school. We obviously don’t have a city hall. The Walker Library steps in to fulfill this role, and I think a suitably grand and inspiring freestanding building is the way to communicate its status to the community.

The plaza. I like the library letter art; it would be nice to see them Incorporated somehow in the new design. The plaza itself is a failure, though. It usually feels dead. I like the idea of some outdoor space, ideally incorporating seating and maybe even a small children’s play area, but it needs to better engage the public and contribute to the overall street life of Uptown. I’ve seen it done well in other places, and have every hope that it will work here.

Parking. I know people have a fit about parking. I believe that the library has to offer adequate parking, particularly to serve older or disabled people, but overall if it comes down to making a decision between extra space for either a public plaza or the library building itself I’d get rid of the parking (or most of it) in a minute. Non-disabled people can walk, bus, bike, park on the street, or walk from one of the neighborhood’s other parking lots.

Meeting space. The library needs to provide flexible space to accommodate large groups. An obvious point, of course, but one worth listing all the same.

Gallery space. Given the library’s function as more than simply a repository for books (and now provider of computer access), it would be wonderful to see an area set aside to feature relevant small-scale exhibits. There should be secure accommodations for small three-dimensional objects (including books) as well as wall space for art; possible exhibition topics could be everything from the work of local artists to local history to highlights from the library’s own collection. Curators could include both library staff as well as community members. Exhibitions with a Minneapolis, and even better, an Uptown, focus would further enhance the area’s sense of unity.

Corral the kids. The trend in libraries seems to be towards integrating children’s rooms into the larger library, rather than placing them off to the side and away from the adult areas. I assume that part of this is due to security concerns and staffing issues. As the parent of a toddler, I can speak from personal experience when I say that I absolutely hate these wide-open spaces. Kids are noisy (even when trying to stay quiet), run fast, and need their own space. A separate room may not be possible, but even an area enclosed by some Plexiglas or enclosed by a waist-high wall could keep the kids from a mad dash out the door while still allowing good visibility from outside. Still, a separate space would be my number one choice if at all possible, and would presumably also please the other patrons of the library, at least those who prefer to be able to work in peace and quiet.

Technology. Computers are a necessary part of any library, so provide enough of them to meet the needs of the patrons. Keep enough aside (and scattered) to provide easy catalogue access for visitors just trying to find a book.

And the big one: books. The more books the better. And also from the viewpoint of a parent of a toddler, it’s nice to have the aisles spaced widely enough so that I can push a stroller down the middle without my son being able to sweep all the books from the shelves before I can stop him. Even without a child in tow it’s nice to be able to have room for browsing, especially if it’s a popular row. Still, if it comes down to cramped rows or more books, I’d take the more books option.

What did I miss? What are your ideas for the new Walker Library?

1 comment:

  1. I wish they's just buy back the old building and refurbish it for the 21st century. I is always going to look like a library, so make it one.