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We Don't Need A New Library (Yet)

I go to the downtown library every couple of weeks for books for myself and my toddler. It's directly on some main-line bus routes; and no more than 2-3 blocks away from the remainder (filled green dot in image that follows). At certain times of the day, most patrons arrive via transit - and many of those are clearly mobility-impaired. The space is underutilized, despite what you hear - there's apparent office space on upper floors; and the shelves on the ground floor are of a substandard height (the tops well below my eye level, and I'm not a tall man). There's plenty of room for more books - if we got better shelves and made better use of the upper floors.

The new proposed location is in a backwater corner of downtown where the closest major bus routes would be 2-3 blocks away (big red dot off the edge of the picture here); and the remaining major routes would be 4-5 blocks away. The library campaigners claim otherwise, but remember: anybody who refers today to "light rail" obviously doesn't know what they're talking about. The commuter rail line ends a mile east of here; and the proposed streetcar (still a couple of blocks away) is just a gleam in peoples' eye. All of this seems like a small difference until you try to navigate the extra difference in a wheelchair (or as me, on a day when my arthritis is particularly bad). Then, you get it: drop me off right in front, please.

Yes, the new building would be pretty. Yes, the current building is a particularly ugly example of Soviet-inspired 1960s/1970s architecture. I'm positive the new location would have more parking, too; but the purpose of the main central library ought to be to serve folks in the following order of preference: the transit-dependent, downtown workers and residents, and only then suburban drivers. The branches are available for those who find having to pay to park (or park a couple of blocks away) too inconvenient. Quite simply: this is a case of people who occasionally want to use the library remaking it nicer for themselves while forgetting about those who need the library.

I'm with my former colleague Carl: some of these bonds are clearly just too much - we're borrowing for non-necessities which are going to dig us into an operations/maintenance hole later on. Unless somebody at the library can make a compelling case which doesn't rely on the obvious falsehood that they're out of space for books, I'd urge you to vote no on this particular bond (#6). Buy some better shelves; move some people's offices to other buildings; and if in a few more years, we're back where we are today, then plan a new building in the current location.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Urban Design , Walking in Austin (Pedestrian Issues)


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Mike is against the new central library, which is sorta like being against motherhood and apple pie. Of course, he quotes my article in his post. I do think that an argument can be made that a new central processing... [Read More]


The library is especially important as a noon-hour respite location for downtown workers. The proposed new location would be worthless for that purpose. The book-receiving and administration chores performed on the upper floors could be done off-site. Personally, I still miss the old library, now AHC, as a library; what a civilized and daylit place it was. The proposed new location would be off on a transportation spur instead of within walking distance of so many existing bus lines. People who don't walk forget how hilly Austin really is.

"I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it." Or something like that.

Although I disagree with you, this post is included in Austinist's best of the blogs for this week.


Why are we wasting so much money on a Central Library that will serve tourists, homeless, and a very narrow downtown interest, when our branch libraries are left to rot...literally. There are over $2 million worth of repairs for our branch libraries that were cut from the final package. And it is always our branch libraries that get shut down in bad economic times. Do you think for a minute that the new Central Library and its projected $750k annual O&M will ever be closed in a downturn. NOPE. Our neighborhood libraries...the ones we actually use, will be the ones that suffer.

I agree. Vote no on this boondoggle.

You're assuming that the bus routes won't change to reflect the new development in that part of town. But, that's probably a fairly safe assumption since the library will be in new-condo-ville.

I'm with you on Prop 6. And I've got reservations about a lot of the rest of the slate. The first coming from the fact that the pro-bond website (http://www.7steps4austin.com/) is pushing things with the "we're for it, you should be too" explanation instead of deeper justifications. But I'll buy into the argument that open spaces will cost less now than in the future.


I wouldn't back your reasoning - the central library serves people who need it more; and simply ought to be open all the time.


I wouldn't expect the bus routes to change for the simple fact that it would be a multi-block trip out of their way (almost all end up crossing either the Congress or the 1st street bridge).