Thursday, November 11, 2010

The problem with the downtown library

Building the new downtown library WAS by all means a great decision and a major victory for urban enthusiasts. Not only is the architecture of the building a positive but also the presence of a library people actually want to go to is a huge benefit to the downtown environment. There's only one problem with the implementation of that idea: the hours of operation.

These are the hours of operation for the Ronald Norick Downtown Library.

Monday - Thursday 9am - 9pm
Friday 9am - 6pm
Saturday 9am - 5pm
Sunday 1pm - 6pm

Monday through Thursday seem alright, but why are there no evening hours on Friday and Saturday? Granted, we all know that librarians hate being cooped up in libraries and held from their active social life, but that aside--it just does NOT make sense for the library hours and downtown's busiest hours not to coincide. Part of the reason why you never really see as much people activity as you'd expect around such a public asset is that its hours and downtown's hours don't really coincide. And by that I am sort of excluding people in suits who aren't really going to use the library anyway unless they have a meeting in one of its great meeting rooms.

It just seems disingenuous for the library to never be open when most regular people are going to be downtown. The slight improvement on these hours that needs to be made is that it needs to be open until at least 9 pm on Friday and Saturday. Then I think you would see more synergy between it and the arts district--people attending showings at the OKCMOA or plays at the Civic Center Music Hall or events in the revitalized Myriad Gardens could make a stop at the library. This would lead to a huge increase in casual traffic, because as it is with the library hours, you're only going to go in there if you're looking for something specific. And what's more is that it really doesn't help people who don't either work downtown or live downtown. Working downtown are about 50,000 people; living downtown are a little over 5,000 people. We are a city of 560,000 and a metro of 1.3 million.

It just seems like the library is currently excluding itself from taking a more prominent role in forming that downtown lifestyle we're looking for. At the very least, longer operation hours on weekends would at least keep the homeless people who have claimed that side of Park Avenue at bay a little longer. That alone would go a long way toward making downtown more people-friendly.


Chad Reynolds said...

Nick, couldn't agree with you more here. I keep wanting to go to the library with my young son on Friday after work and after dinner, and I load him up in the car, and we drive our measley 18 blocks, singing little library songs, only to arrive to a closed library. I've done this twice now. It's a bummer. Hey, keep up the great work, by the way. I really enjoy your blog and your posts to OKCTalk. Chad Reynolds

Anonymous said...

Nick - I respectfully submit that you're off-base here. People are downtown during business hours, and those are library hours. In the evenings and on weekends, CBD traffic goes way down. And as far as people making a stop at the downtown branch on their way to/from an event, well, that simply doesn't hold water. If the downtown branch was the only one we had in the metro, I might agree, but the MLS has 11 suburban branches plus five extension locations, and several of them are convenient to me.

Paul said...

I tend to agree. I don't think that the hours should be radically extended, but it would be nice for those with 9-5 jobs if they could pop by the library on a Friday after work to browse the shelves, pick up a few things or, as is usually my case, settle a fine or two.

That being said, I don't think I put much stock in your scenario of people popping in within the context of their evening downtown. I can only speak for myself, but when I got to, for example, the symphony on a Saturday evening, I take the bus downtown from NW OKC (loading my bike on the front) and I have some dinner at Museum Café or Trattoria and then it's pretty well time to walk back to the Civic Center and get seated and then I make the 45 minute bike ride home afterwards. Nowhere in the routine do I envision myself heading over to the library to peruse the shelves and pick up a book or DVD.

This is coming from someone who uses both my local branch (Belle Isle) and the downtown library A LOT. I declared personal austerity measures in light of the recession and cancelled all the magazine subscriptions I had that I could read at the library, and as such, I spend the majority of one of my days off a week at the library. Still, unless the library itself is going to get more involved in the cultural scene besides movies on wednesday nights and concerts on Sunday, I just don't see myself popping in on a night out to catch an article from The Economist that I wasn't able to get to earlier in the week.

Perhaps I lack the vision of what the library could be and perhaps I'm too confined by the bus system as it stands to think about the library as a nighttime option. And I do think that it would be nice to have a little more vivacity downtown in the arts district. If anyone ever takes care of Stage Center's issues the library will be there in the midst of what I call the power square 1/2 mile, what with the Civic Center, Art Museum, a couple good restaurants, the library, and the new Myriad Gardens. I'm just not sure where best to utilize our scare resources.