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The Future of Our Library

by Charles Brown

November 7,2008

When the doors of the original Main Library opened at the corner of 6th and North Tryon Streets 105 years ago, few residents and officials of the time could have envisioned the sprawling library system that serves all of Mecklenburg County today. With 24 locations, including the internationally recognized ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center™, over 550 employees, and a budget in excess of $40M, the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County is not only highly valued by this community, but among the most recognized and respected public libraries in the nation.

Just as the Library’s founders over a century ago would have been hard pressed to envision this library – with its specialized services and programs for children and teens (none of which were in widespread practice at the time), easy availability of non-print items such as music CDs, DVDs, or audiobooks, and around-the-clock access to a vast array of resources via the Internet – I feel, in many ways, equally inadequate in trying to foretell this institution’s future. Yet I am certain that it will be a rich and glorious one.

In laying the seeds for the future, one of the major activities at the moment is planning the “look and feel” of Library spaces, and actively involving members of the public in the process. We want to take a look at our facilities, both current and existing, over the next ten to twenty years. The ubiquitous card catalogs of my youth are long gone. And with banks of computers and growing numbers of library users now expecting ready access to coffee and even munchies inside library locations (now the case in at least two of our Library locations), today’s library is ever-changing, and – with your help – will change even more in the years to come.

As part of our current effort to map out the future look and feel of existing locations, as well as to plan additional ones for our burgeoning community, we are inviting residents to join us over what we are describing as facilitated “Coffee & Conversations” to help in shaping the future of the Library’s physical spaces. These sessions began in late October, and we will have sessions during the first week in November at library locations throughout Mecklenburg County. We know it’s about more than buildings, it’s about the great things inside them: the collections, the experiences, the love of lifelong learning that is housed there. So we want to hear from you, our customers, about the kinds of buildings, collections and experiences you would like to see in the future. We will use the information to help develop a new Library Facilities Master Plan, which will concern all aspects of library facilities in Mecklenburg County. If you want more information about these sessions, go to www.plcmc.org and click on “Coffee and Conversation.” There you will also find a link to our community blog, where you can provide input if you are unable to attend one of the sessions.

And what of the future of Main Library, the facility that started it all? In a process that began last year, which also included community involvement, we undertook an in-depth look at the future of the Main Library. The original 1903 building at 6th and North Tryon was replaced during the 1950s, then completely renovated and substantially expanded in 1989. Now, discussions are underway that could in the coming decade lead – as part of the potential redevelopment of most of the surrounding block – to an amazing redevelopment project. One of the many concepts discussed would result in a new Main Library, with a possible architectural connection to the also beloved McGlohon Theatre, space for current Spirit Square tenants, a high-rise office tower, a residential building, a boutique hotel, retail – and up to 1,200 much-needed parking spaces.

These are just some of the things that I can potentially “see” in the Library’s future from my office on a brisk fall afternoon in late 2008. We can only imagine the full range of possibilities for this organization as we look out into the years ahead.

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