Thursday, August 6, 2009

Moving the Walker Library?

Above: The original Walker Library

I knew that there was a new Walker Library on the horizon, but until recently had not been aware that there is a possibility that the library could move to a different location. There are no specifics – at this point this is more of a “what if” kind of question – but the library would still remain in the Uptown area. I was surprised to discover that this was even open for discussion, but the more I think about it the more I like it.

The current location limits expansion. While the location on the corner of Lagoon and Hennepin is certainly convenient, the footprint is small. It will be a cold day in hell before a Minneapolis library axes parking in return for building space, so once you factor in the need for parking (even if an underground garage) there still isn’t going to be much room for additional space. Moving to another location would provide more flexibility with design (including parking options) as well as potentially free up more space for a larger building.

Go east, young library. While I certainly want the library to stay within Uptown, I really like the idea of it moving east along Lake or Lagoon. Even a short move would put it that much closer to residents of Lyn-Lake and the heavily populated Whittier and Lyndale neighborhoods.
What about public transportation? I’ve heard some complaints that patrons would be hurt if the library was not in such close proximity to the transit center. I don’t buy this argument. The library should be within easy distance of bus (and, I hope, a LRT line!) routes, but that doesn’t mean it has to be directly adjacent to the transit center. People can walk a few blocks, and those who can’t, but still depend on public transportation, will continue to have other options such as Metro Mobility. Ideally the library will be moved east along the stretch of Lake or Lagoon between Hennepin (I’d be open to as far east as Bryant) allowing for both easy bus access beyond simply the Transit Center as well as a convenient connection to the Greenway.

“Uptown” does not have to mean within two blocks of Hennepin and Lake. I’ve also heard the argument that if the library moves that it will be a sign that commerce has taken over the heart of Uptown, and that the people will have lost as a result. I think this argument only flies if one considers Uptown to be a very small commercial core. By moving the library to a different location within Uptown there’s the chance to further strengthen the entire area. Providing a civic building, a community gathering place of great social and symbolic significance, away from the historic heart of the commercial district will help send the message that Uptown is more than just a couple of intersections. If located between somewhere between Hennepin and Lyndale it could further strengthen the connections between the traditional Uptown area and the Lyn-Lake area.

What about the current site? The corner of Hennepin and Lagoon really does deserve a great building. I’m open to the possibilities, but don’t feel that it has to be civic in function. I would hope it would be something drawing enough traffic at different times of the day to keep that corner vibrant and bustling, further helping to liven up a block that is currently not living up to its livability potential. What would be really nice, though, although admittedly not practical, would be to turn the original Walker Library into a post office. That would ensure some civic presence in the heart of Uptown, reuse a building that will always look somewhat institutional (in a good way), and provide a much-needed service to the Uptown community.

A clarification on my stance on a mixed-use library: I had previously stated that I oppose a mixed-use library, in part because I like the idea of a library having sufficient community and cultural heft to stand on its own as a landmark and local focal point. I still feel that way, but do like the idea of some additional non-library use, although in moderation. If some low-key office space, perhaps with a separate entrance, were feasible it could help with costs, as well as provide some additional foot traffic in Uptown. It would then be available for future library use, if, say, the library system needs additional administrative space or has other needs. Another potential mixed-use option would be a coffee place or something similar (although Uptown is not exactly lacking in those); something to provide library patrons with a quick place to get a snack or a drink, while also providing some extra income for the library.

Finally, the Uptown branch may not be large enough to support such a thing, but a high-quality friends of the library store, one selling relevant gifts and book-related accessories, perhaps, could both bring added revenue and traffic to the site as well as enhance the library as a destination. It may be a branch library, but that doesn’t mean the Uptown neighborhood can’t treat it as our own “central” library. These options would only be feasible on a new site. In the end, though, I do firmly believe that the library should look like a library (although that can be interpreted in innovative ways – it doesn’t need to look like the classic image of a library) and should have a form befitting its status as a local landmark and major community destination.