Library poised for the 21st century
October 27, 2012
In Aspen, there is no designated community center. Because of Aspen’s strong culture of individualism and Aspenites always on the go, there is not the need for such a gathering place, as in other comparably sized towns.
In such a strong community as Aspen there are still a number of the last, great and good places, where people come together for a purpose: the Sundeck, the Aspen Recreation Center, Little Annie’s, the Jerome Bar, Explore Booksellers, the two markets, the Benedict Music Tent, the District Theatre, the post office, the library, etc. In a dynamic resort town, like Aspen, having such places is important to link people up and help people stay connected. These gathering places give strength and substance to our sense of community. Also, the post office and library are the only two gathering places which are free!
Our library is centrally located and easily available to locals and visitors alike. Though under 14,000 people live in Pitkin County, on a given day in the winter or summer there can be easily 20,000 people in Aspen. The library is the size it is because it serves an amazing array of locals and visitors alike. When visitors learn how big the ARC is, they find it mind boggling. The same is true for our library, as it serves such a highly educated and curious population.
When I first heard of the library’s proposed expansion, I was struck by the fact that the library is only asking for a 23 percent increase in size to address the next 30 years. Also, how unusual for a county enterprise fund, the library, to already have a 50 percent endowment already in place to pay for half of the planned expansion and remodel of the interior. They have been good stewards of their resources. The bond they are requesting is only a 50 percent bond to value of construction ratio.
The current library feels so heavy and cumbersome, and its shape, spaces and forms are geared to a bygone era. I believe the new design, new spaces and response to the electronic age mesh well with the classic printed word, and yet prepare the library to be agile and in tune with the Internet world, and whatever comes next.
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Who would have ever dreamed that the printing press, the paperback book, the record player, the phone, television or the iPad would each come to dominate our evolving societies over the years? The ponderous library building is like a bunker and now it will become like the MOMA!
The timing is perfect. By working closely and carefully with the City Council, the city committee studying the courthouse plaza, and the City Transportation Committee planning needed structural changes to the parking garage below, the library board has meshed their plan to work in harmony with all the master plans for the plaza and the garage. It is a “perfect storm” of interests.
The courthouse plaza has been a highly under-utilized public space, but it has such great potential. The theater group has been quite inventive and resourceful with its events in the plaza, but the potential to breathe new life into this plaza becomes so great. The new design with its patio and soaring new roof will integrate perfectly with a transformed plaza, and will for the first time make this odd, moribund plaza begin to come alive and make sense. The creative, attractive roof is lower than the cupola of the current building, and I believe it is an interesting and imaginative architectural element. The City Council and library board worked hand in glove to make adjustments and fine tune the final design.
The new library will continue to be a dynamic gathering place for 21st century Pitkin County. It will continue to inspire the myriad of accidental encounters among our community members, young and old alike, which are the essence of all our special gathering places. Our kids will feel welcome, confident and protected in such an open, inviting environment. It will be an inspired milieu for stretching our minds and making us reach for a higher shelf or another unexpected Internet band. The multitude of future community meetings and events to be held in the library will be inspirational and informative in the new spaces. In my view it will work brilliantly for the long term best interest of our community. It is the essence of the Aspen Idea.
Vote “yes” for the library’s needed transformation and expansion.