George Newman: Guest opinion | AspenTimes.com

George Newman: Guest opinion

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

In the age of the Internet, why do we need additional space at our library? To put it simply: because public libraries are, first and foremost, a physical place.

Libraries all around the country continue to serve as gathering places and community information centers. They provide the public with ready access to free information about government services, including making public documents and forms readily available. For most children, a public library is the first entry point into the community and the world of formal education.

The reconfiguration of our library will move our children’s center to the main floor, out of the path of entering patrons, to an area better designed to suit their needs – and with more natural light. You only have to visit the Basalt Regional Library to see what a 21st-century children’s section can be. The expansion will include much-needed space for teens and “tweens,” recognizing the unique needs of these groups.

Libraries are also important in serving the “underserved,” in promoting diversity and for ensuring greater access to computers for all. Our library continues to expand these functions with new programs, increasing public participation to address illiteracy, the needs of the technologically challenged and those who need assistance searching for employment or help writing resumes and completing employment applications.

The reconfiguration-addition will free up meeting-room space currently used for children’s story hours as well as other community events that have drawn as many as 150 participants at one time. In fact, last year, there were more than 580 uses made of the library’s downstairs meeting room. The expansion design with broad community input includes an extension to allow outdoor seating protected from the elements that should enhance enjoyment of activities on the plaza, revitalizing an underutilized public space.

Why do this now? The timing is right: to coincide with the city’s need for a new roof for the Rio Grande parking garage, securing significant cost savings. The project will benefit from current low interest rates and lower construction costs and will prevent future disruptions to the plaza and parking garage.

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It will incorporate improvements in energy efficiency and sustainability, which will have long-term environmental benefits. The project is an important investment in our community’s future for a minimal increase in property tax (less than $2 a year per $100,000 in residential property valuation). Upgrading and expanding our public library also will support real estate values in our community.

If you haven’t been to our library for a while, stop by. You will be surprised how busy it really is. Yes, we should be proud of our nationally recognized facility, staffed by a devoted director and employees.

A 21st century library will provide more and better space for the programs mentioned above and allow staff to develop new community programs. A 21st century library will improve our ability to address literacy in a diverse population and meet the future needs of residents. A 21st century library will ensure free access to those without Internet or computers and guarantee public access to information, public documents and forms. A 21st century Pitkin County Library will attract locals and guests alike and enhance an essential and valuable community amenity we can continue to be proud of.

In the age of the Internet, people at all income and skill levels have come to expect more from their public libraries. The timely expansion of our library will meet those demands for all users. Referring to his own library, Thomas Jefferson once said, “I cannot live without books.” Pitkin County’s expanded library will be that and much more.

Vote “yes” on ballot questions 5A and 5B.