The need for a new building to house the main branch of the Wichita Public Library is very real, and one that has been postponed far too long.
Part of the problem has been that the public has heard too much from the naysayers and too little from those who, we believe, represent the majority of Wichitans.
The naysayers have distracted the public with stories of the homeless taking refuge in the library and with the mistaken belief that remodeling is all that is needed. The homeless need to be addressed, but not in connection with the need for a new building. Several experts in the field say that the old building cannot be remodeled.
The people of Wichita deserve and need to be able to use the library for more than recreational reading, which seems to be some people’s only focus. Wichitans need to do research in a multitude of areas. They need to use computers not just for information but to find jobs, file taxes and fill out other necessary forms.
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Local state representatives have polled their constituents on e-mail availability and found that as many as half do not have home computers.
There is a need for parking. By no one’s definition is it adequate now, and it disappears during any activity at Century II and during the Wichita River Festival. A need for meeting rooms for civic and volunteer organizations is not being met by other venues. Most of all, Wichitans need access to the library’s entire collection. The current building allows access to about half, with the rest of the collection languishing in the basement.
Staff members of the library also need workrooms, so they can process new materials in something other than sweatshop conditions.
The library is only minimally compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, with a ramp requiring extreme effort to navigate and elevators that will not enable wheelchairs to turn around. Large elevators cannot be installed in the current structure.
A needs assessment was done and paid for eight years ago. It noted that space was needed for teen and student usage (still nonexistent) and that wiring was inadequate even then for technology, which has only multiplied in the following years. Conditions have only become worse and will continue to do so as the cost of construction rises.
We need action now, not another postponement.
Considering the size of Wichita, the Central Library is in no way adequate to meet the needs of all its citizens.