I’ve always been a major fan of libraries. I have three library cards in my name, if you count the UCR ID as one, and the oldest is at least 10 years old. It isn’t just about the books; if it were, I could always just go to a bookstore when I need something to read.
No, libraries are something special, something beyond just books. They are places for quiet reflection, for working without distraction, for bringing together and sharing different ideas (but the books are still the most important thing). That is why I was shocked to hear about the city of Riverside’s plans for its main library. The city has recently begun considering the possibility of either renovating the current building or moving the establishment to another site entirely. They cite the current structure’s age and lack of versatility as reasons for making a change.
Neither of these is a sufficient justification to move the library. The claim that the building is not versatile is absurd. Having been there multiple times, I can say from experience that the building is large and open on the inside (of course, ignoring the shelving), and what could be more versatile than a large, open building? Nothing that I can think of.
As for the building’s age, this is more of a plus than anything else. Since the main library is about half a century old, I’d say it’s old enough to be a major part of the city’s history. Not only that, but the library is in the dead center of Riverside’s most historic area — downtown. If memory serves, when you cross one street over from the library you reach the Mission Inn; in the same area, there is the Riverside Art Museum, the California Museum of Photography, the Fox Theater and a variety of other places of interest. You literally cannot beat its location as far as history goes. Lastly, thanks to its location, it’s also iconic in its own right. I recall being in downtown once, and I saw a flier advertising a poetry reading in front of — you guessed it — the main library, because what better place could there be for such an event? It’s an appropriate venue — a literary reading at a literary place — and people know where it is, so I’d say none.
Moving the library could solve some of the so-called “problems” that some may have, but other issues arise from such action. For starters, there would be huge expenses in building a new library from the ground up, definitely running up a bill of millions of dollars. Then, there would be the cost of maintaining the former main library, which would probably be unused after being replaced. Perhaps most significant, though, is the fact that libraries are not great places to be spending large sums of cash. When the city runs out of money, libraries are the first places that lose staff and hours. Thus, I don’t see why the city would risk its money on a building that could very well be facing budget cuts by the time it opens (presumably a few years down the line).
One option therefore remains. A compromise between spending nothing extra on the library and building a new one, and that’s upgrading the library. As any building gets older, it will develop problems, or at least become outdated. If the city was (or is) willing to spend many millions on a completely new structure, they could just as easily allocate a hefty extra budget to the library to make the most of the structure the city already has. The funding could go toward hiring new staff (possibly allowing the building to play host to more events), and to making necessary cosmetic changes, repairs and upgrades. And of course, they could buy more books.
Despite people thinking that libraries are obsolete — which they’re not — these places still matter, so Riverside and its people deserve the best one they can get. Luckily, they already have it.