The Wichita Public Library is not an enterprise; it is dependent on the city for its existence and on the many volunteers for services. With that in mind, and as the steward of the public assets, the Wichita City Council must provide for the full funding of a new Central Library.
Doing so is a test of visionary leadership.
When the current Central Library was built in 1967, it functioned well as simply a building housing mostly books. But the holdings have grown beyond the original capacity, technology has advanced, meeting space has all but disappeared, and service to the community is strained and has become limited. In addition, current operating expenses are not cost-effective, structural maintenance and repairs are excessive, and accessibility has become more and more limited, especially with increased activities at Century II.
The original mission of the "old" library model as a fixed source of information has evolved into an interactive information center with emerging technologies, community centers, and database accessibility not generally available to the public without a substantial subscription fee.
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In the past, books separated the haves from the have-nots. Today, the dividers are the equipment needed to access, create and manipulate information. Libraries can remove those barriers for the entire community.
The new library is Wichita's investment in the future for all of Wichita's constituencies. The results of the library board's careful study of current and future needs were used by national experts in library design to present the conceptual plan for the new library. They are not pie-in-the-sky wishes, but rather are concrete, well-considered solutions unique to Wichita.
Even though the City Council approved the purchase of a site for the new library, a question persists of whether the current library could be remodeled and expanded. The recently finished study showed that to remodel the current building and add extra space would cost slightly more than a completely new building. That process would require moving the contents of the current library to a temporary facility for two years.
The result would not address the need for parking requirements during Century II activities, would take up more land to restrict any Century II area expansion, and would only be a "make-do" facility of an old building with an add-on.
Further delays do not remove the need for a new building, potentially costing more as construction costs increase and risking increased bond rates and indebtedness for the city. Timing is critical. The current building needs new carpeting, a new roof and updated plumbing, all of which will need to be addressed soon. These are costly reasons not to delay fully funding the library board's request for a new facility.
The new construction and subsequent building will provide jobs, accommodate changing information technology, make a statement about Wichita, provide community meeting spaces, be a catalyst for discovery, and help attract new businesses and families.
The argument is not whether Wichita needs a new library, but whether Wichita leaders will be visionary enough to shape the future. This new cultural and information center will be the repository of accessible information, the hub of cultural identity for Wichita, and the legacy for future generations. The City Council should not delay any longer.