August 31, 2018

The New Central Library Turns One

A year ago, Downtown Winston-Salem’s Central Library reopened after being closed for entirely too long. One year later, it’s fair to mention the Central Library’s shortcoming.

Winston’s Central Library is an amazing redeveloped building. It’s so much better than the old Central Library which was opened in the 1950s and expanded in the 1970s.

Winston’s Central Library is where millionaire’s row meets skid row. The portion of 5th Street where the library now stands was once home to the city’s most prominent residents. 660 West 5th itself was home to R.J. Reynolds and his family before they moved to the Reynolda House. Servants quarters used by R.J. Reynolds and his brother Will still stand between the library’s parking garage and Centenary Methodist.

Today, the Central Library is the one place downtown where the jobless are welcomed. It’s a beautiful public space in a highly commoditized downtown.

But it’s far from perfect. The biggest problem with the Central Library is its limited hours. Greensboro’s Central Library is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. The foolishly frugal Forsyth County Commissioners need to extend the library’s hours. A beautiful building is of no benefit when it’s closed.

The second problem that the Central Library has is its clumsy use of public space in front of the library. Some people like the giant book on an easel, entitled, “Timeless Purpose,” on the library’s front lawn. But I don’t.

The old Central Library often had patrons standing around to the left of the library’s main entrance. It appears that the library’s landscaping and public sculpture were designed to keep people from congregating in front of the library.

The library’s front lawn could have been much better used as space for urban gardening, something High Point’s Central Library is doing quite well. Or that space could have been used as a chess park or for some other purpose. But the county commissioners don’t want the rabble gathering on the Central Library’s lawn.

The third problem that I have with Winston’s Central Library is its one-floor elevator. A big reason that the Central Library was rebuilt, instead of being completely torn down was the parking garage under the back of the building. But when you enter the library from the parking garage you must take an elevator up one floor and immediately walk up a short flight of steps. A one-floor elevator is a poorly designed elevator. Staff can use the parking garage elevator to get to the second floor, but patrons cannot. There are stairs, but they are behind a locked door and only available to library staff.

Other minor issues that I have with the Central Library is an Apple store style technology bar that I’ve never seen used, an underutilized maker space, a covered terrace that could use vending machines, and too much space being allocated to for the library’s staff.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Central Library. It’s my favorite art gallery. The North Carolina Room is amazing. The Forsyth Reading Room is awesome. Teen Central is very cool.

The Central Library is a first-class public space amidst an over-priced downtown, a refuge from the rest of Downtown Winston, but it’s not without its faults.

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