After being the target of some persistent naysaying over the past few years, Cedar Rapids’ downtown public library finally got a chance to speak for itself Saturday.
Many, many people showed up at its grand opening, including my family. The library was jammed with folks gawking and browsing and lining up for library cards. Kids climbed on the furniture, read with their parents and crowded around a big tabletop “tactile” computer. My kids, whose iPods nearly have become fused to their hands, enthusiastically scanned the shelves and actually checked out some books.
If there were any folks loudly complaining about the building’s “Taj Mahal” extravagance, as I’ve heard dozens of times in the years leading up to this day, they didn’t do it within earshot of me. I heard many expressions of awe but no curses of awful. This is hardly a scientific sampling, I know, but I feel comfortable saying the new library made a very good first impression.
Over the weekend, according to Amber Mussman, the library’s public information officer, 591 new library cards were issued and 11,379 items were checked out downtown. Also, my wife came clean and paid a 65-cent fine.
It looks, at this point, as if the library project will come in just more than $1 million under its $49 million projected price tag, according to Library Director Bob Pasicznyuk. Final numbers aren’t yet available.
A lot of money, to be sure. But we saw no crystal chandeliers or champagne fountains, although the water fountains will fill a water bottle. The green roof, which has drawn some local eye rolls, is watered by a pair of tanks that collect rainwater and even air conditioning condensation. This is a flood recovery project that won’t send its runoff rushing toward the Cedar River. Seems like a good idea.
But enough about that stuff. And, really, I mean enough.
There’s been plenty of criticism aimed at this project. But it’s here. And now, debate has been replaced by a useful, attractive public space free and open to every single person in this community and beyond. It’s a place where people can read, learn, collaborate with one another and access technology. It will put new resources within reach of parents and educators, and put books into the hands of their children.
It’s the sort of place that a newcomer might assume has been universally embraced as a point of community pride and a symbol of resilience and optimism. I won’t tell them if you don’t. And the library now can speak for itself.