I am no longer a resident of East Baton Rouge Parish, but I used to be, and for many years my family has continued to work, learn and play in this fine town. So I write here in response to the controversy that continues to surround the building of the new downtown library. I would suggest that naysayers of this plan try to understand the contribution of a viable downtown library.
There is not a more democratic institution built for and by the people than a library, a living monument to lifelong learning, a source for all manner of information needs for citizenry, a repository for all that documents the existence of a community for posterity. A library provides a meeting place for the public, weaves cohesion among a community that represents different points of view, faiths and backgrounds.
Although branch libraries serve those needs for their respective areas, there must remain a civic priority to maintain a flagship facility in the heart of a city’s downtown area.
On a recent visit to Chicago, I was awestruck with the Harold Washington Library on State and Congress. In a city composed of some of the most magnificent architecture in the world, the downtown library commands an impressive presence, but it is so much more than just another beautiful building.
This facility replaced an old structure nearby that, despite its elegance and historical value, could not meet the infrastructural needs that a modern library program demands. Today that library is a beacon of civic pride. People from all walks of life who call themselves Chicagoans use it daily.
The same can be true for Baton Rouge. What can be more fitting than to place a 21st-century library alongside the historic churches, financial institutions and nexus of city and state government? Much is revealed about a city by the civic projects it embraces, but alas, what it chooses not to embrace is likewise telling.