I recently had a chance to meet with Audrey Betcher, the executive director of the Rochester Public Library, and ask her questions about the proposed library expansion that is seeking City support. The $55 million two-story addition would increase the number of community meeting spaces and provide for a café, gift shop, and enhanced circulation between the parking ramp and the library.
I love libraries. Growing up I went to the library often – to find a new book, to read a newspaper from far away, or use a computer. A kid with a card can access a whole different world with libraries and librarians as the tour guides. To me, the library was freedom.
But we have to remember libraries, and the services they provide, aren’t free. The City of Rochester spends about $6 million each year on our public library, and Olmsted County spends $1 million. In my opinion, this in money well spent.
The current library was built 20 years ago in 1995. We have had tremendous growth in our community over those 20 years, but the library hasn’t gotten bigger. They’ve done innovative programming like the bookmobile and other outreach programs, but I believe now is the time to double down on our library and find the money for the proposed expansion.
The question that often arises for these types of projects is “where do we get the money?” It is an important question, and once we decide something is a community priority, we need to find the resources to make it happen.
The City decided that the 65th Street interchange was a community priority, and we spend several years working to find the resources to make it happen. The same is true for the new new fire station, public works garages, the Civic Center expansion and even DMC. In my opinion, expanding the library is just as important as these other community improvements, and arguably more important than the interchange or the Civic Center.
We can debate whether it make sense to have more libraries scattered around the community (it does by the way, but that’s the next phase) or whether it makes sense to move the library out of its current location as envisioned by DMC (it doesn’t, financially). But I do not believe the library should move out of downtown. If our public institutions and small local businesses leave downtown, then DMC, and thus the entire community cannot thrive. Downtown is the friendly, safe place where people from Rochester experience ideas and people from all over the world, just as they do at the public library.