Cedar Rapids opened the new main branch of the public library last week in a big way, climaxing with a public ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday, August 24. The project was necessitated by the 2008 flood, which severely damaged the building and collection located on 1st St SE close by the river. I understand that is the biggest disaster in financial terms in the history of American public libraries. [Television station KCRG has a brief video of the flood damaged library here.]
While plans were made and financing arranged, the library maintained a downtown presence in a small office in the Armstrong Building. I found that a convenient and interesting place to study during my sabbatical leave this spring.
Meanwhile construction was underway on the new building, located across from Greene Square Park.
On the opposite side of the park from the library is the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, which was the library before it moved to 1st Street in 1985.
See the names of the authors under the roof?
Saturday was the big day, at last. While we waited for the ribbon to be cut...
...there were activities for children in the park, including balloon animals, washable tattoos, face painting, and entertainment by the indefatigable Hip Hop Hannah.
Clifford the Big Red Dog was also spotted.
At 10 there were speeches by local dignitaries, including Mayor Ron Corbett...
...and Susan McDermott, head of the board of trustees, and my next-door neighbor.
The speakers gave due credit to the federal government--there was a representative of FEMA there--and the state government's I-Jobs program (since disbanded by Governor Branstad), without whose financing the new library would not have been possible.
At last we were invited to attack the ribbon, Here local notables Myrna and Jim Loehrlein make good use of their plastic scissors.
The inside of the library has a lot of books, not to mention DVDs and other materials, but those involved seemed proudest of the design elements. Unlike the 1985 building there are lot of windows as well as a skylight. The children's area has a set of attractive climbing gizmos as well as a hole in the wall for an alternative entry option. (I made it through, barely.)
There is a teen den, with comfy couches and tall shelves.
There are two outdoor areas, a deck on the north side that overlooks Greene Square Park...
...and a green roof, with seating for times when the sun is not blazing.
The library has preserved two of the stained glass windows from First Christian Church, near the cafe...
as well as some bricks from the Sinclair meatpacking plant (in the teen den).
The library connects to the Skywalk system via the 4th Avenue parking garage.
I had some reservations: (1) the green roof is accessible only by elevator, though that may change; (2) the computers for searching the catalogue are hard to find and hard to use; (3) the cafe has a drive through that opens at 6 a.m. on weekdays. I'm not necessarily opposed to that, just not sure what it's doing there.
These quibbles aside, it was thrilling to see the new library become reality, and to see so many people of all ages out to see it.
It is more deeply thrilling that the city of Cedar Rapids has made such a solid commitment to building community. A community needs civic buildings, and the library-park-art museum run makes for a civic place that is real, usable, accessible and central. A constant refrain during the weekend, sung by everyone from the mayor to our lovely tour guide, was "It's your library." "No one washes a rented car," quoted Mayor Corbett. Can we instill a sense of collective ownership?
During the campaign for the library, some people noted that for the price of the library the city could buy everyone an electronic reader like the Amazon Kindle. Leaving aside the short lives of electronic reading devices, a bunch of people in a library adds up to more than the same people individually accessing e-books in their family rooms. We become a community only when we interact, and what better, more democratic, more intelligent place to interact than a public library?
[For more pictures of the big weekend, see the Cedar Rapids Gazette photo gallery here.]