September 1, 2017

New Central Library Is Impressive, The Same Can’t Be Said About The Forsyth County Commissioners

August 31 was a historic day in Winston. For decades it will be remembered as the day that the Central Library reopened. But that doesn’t mean that we have to forget that it took the Forsyth County Commissioners nearly three years to construct the library that Winston-Salem and all of Forsyth County approved almost seven years ago.

The new Central Library is very impressive. It’s everything that the old Central Library wasn’t. It’s difficult to overstate what an upgrade the new or renewed Central Library is over its predecessor.

It’s like the difference between R.J. Reynolds’s original home at 660 West 5th Street and the palatial Reynolda House. It’s like the difference between R.J. Reynolds Tobacco’s complex of 20th-century factories and the modern, high-tech, Wake Forest Innovation Quarter that’s presently the darling of Downtown Winston.

It’s a large, modern space that will meet the needs of the people of Forsyth County for years to come. For a thorough review of the county’s new library read the Winston-Salem Journal’s account.

Personally, even though I had seen some pictures on social media, I was blown away by all that the new Central Library has to offer. A maker space, test kitchen, coffee bar, an awesome kids room, a teen room with game systems, a patio from which you can see Pilot Mountain on a clear day-the new library is simply amazing!

It’s a large, modern building with high ceilings and specialized spaces throughout. It’s a beautiful marriage of steel and glass, accentuated with a notable art collection.

The attention to detail is impressive. Frankly, I couldn’t stop saying wow as I walked through the three floors of the new Central Library.

But while the design and execution of the library blew me away, the Forsyth County Commissioners continue to disappoint. First of all the Commissioners didn’t have a public address system suitable for the crowd of hundreds gathered to witness the library’s grand reopening.

Apparently, despite having nearly three years to prepare for the occasion, the Commissioners decided to let Frank L. Blum Construction provide the P.A. System.

They appear to have done a marvelous job at the Central Library, but they had a mike and speaker set-up that looked like they were purchased at Wal-Mart. It’s a shame that the crowd gathered there was too polite to interrupt the Commissioners.

Very few of the 500 people who the Journal estimated were in attendance could actually hear the Commissioners (a fact that the Journal omitted). But that didn’t seem to bother them. They continued to grandstand for approximately 40 minutes without acknowledging the problem or trying to remedy it in any way.

The grand opening went well. Despite gray skies, it didn’t rain. As the crowd poured into the library everyone was patient and well-behaved. The library was well-staffed with a small army of volunteers to answer questions and assist patrons.

But then later in the day, the limitations of the vision-less  Forsyth County Commissioners became apparent once more. They didn’t extend the opening hours to a reasonable hour. Inexcusably the library closed at 6 p.m. on its opening day!

That was a harsh reminder of the cutbacks the County has made to library hours in recent years. Library hours at the Central Library and throughout the county’s library system need to be extended.

To serve the people’s needs the new Central Library should be open until at least 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday. I’d like to see the library open every Sunday throughout the year and for more than just four hours in the afternoon.

Afterall, what good is a public library if it’s not open? The penny-pinching ways of the Forsyth County Commissioners threaten to limit the potential of the new library. We should demand they the extend the library’s hours and not place “fiscal responsibility” over the needs of the library’s patrons.

Even if longer hours are expensive to maintain they’re a good investment into Winston-Salem, Forsyth County’s future. I’m sure the tax dollars for such a worthy purpose could be found.

The statute on the library’s front lawn entitled “Timeless Purpose” is very impressive. It’s an exclamation mark on the new library. It’s a huge metal book with the word library written in numerous languages.

It affirms the role that libraries have historically played in promoting learning throughout the world. I’m glad that Winston, after three years of waiting can now say that it too recognizes the importance of public libraries.

But “Timeless Purpose” also reminds me of the Ten Commandments that God gave to Abraham. To me “Timeless Purpose” is an unintentional reminder that the then GOP-majority County Commissioners played god with the library.

Bonds were passed in November 2010. But we had to wait nearly seven years later and go almost three years without a Central Library, why? So the Commissioners could save a little money?

Today it certainly appears that rebuilding the Central Library instead of relocating it was the correct decision. But that doesn’t mean that the County Commissioners shouldn’t have operated a temporary Central Library.

The Commissioners were so slow and deliberate building the Central Library, but apparently, they didn’t spend any time trying to ensure that continuity of service was maintained.

I’m sure other cities have rebuilt their Central Libraries without abandoning their patrons or telling them to go to cramped local branches that lacked the capacity to absorb more patrons.

There had to have been some good examples nationally that the Commissioners could have copied, if only they cared.

Going forward the people of Winston-Salem, Forsyth County have to keep the pressure on the County Commissioners to keep our Central Library open and accessible to all who need its many resources.

The Commissioners can’t keep our new cathedral of learning locked away with restrictive hours that limit the public’s enjoyment and benefit.

 

 

 

 

 

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