When OPN Architects set out to design Cedar Rapids’ new library after the Floods of 2008, our team never anticipated the impact the library would have both on our firm and the community.
This year, the Cedar Rapids Public Library received the American Institute of Architects / American Library Association Library Building Award and was named one of 11 Landmark Libraries by the Library Journal. These are just the latest in a growing list of accolades bestowed upon the library since opening in 2013. We have been honored by our peers for the design of the library, and these awards have opened doors for us to work with other communities across the country, helping them envision what a library can be for their community. Through our work we’ve also seen first-hand how other libraries operate, and we are convinced that the staff at the Cedar Rapids Public Library is as innovative as any library staff in the country. The culture, patron experience, and talented staff are what makes the Cedar Rapids Public Library so special
It goes without saying then, that the team at OPN who worked on the Cedar Rapids Public Library as well as the rest of our firm, are biased with regards to the upcoming Nov. 3 vote for a 27 cent library levy to replace emergency funding sources that will soon expire.
We support it wholeheartedly. Our endorsement, though, doesn’t only come from a place of professional pride. We support the levy because we don’t just work in this community. We live here too. And as rewarding as it is to receive recognition for our work, it is far more fulfilling to see the library used in the ways we hoped it would be and in others we never imagined.
That is the magic of the Cedar Rapids Library. It is also why comments from those opposed to the levy confuse and dismay us. If you say libraries are irrelevant in the digital age, we say, you probably haven’t stepped through the doors of CRPL.
It is more than shelves of books — though don’t underestimate the demands for those either — the library has become a hub for this community. It is a wedding chapel, petting zoo, coffee shop, gathering place for friends, small business incubator, refuge from the elements, job resource center, performance venue, conference (and unconference room).
Every day, nearly 2,000 people visit one of the two Cedar Rapids Public Library locations, downtown and on the city’s southwest side at the Ladd Library. They come because they need a service the library offers, even if that’s just a warm place to spend the day.
Those who have access to a computer and the internet or to shelves of books in their own home may assume everyone else in the community does as well. That’s not the case, though. More than 130,000 people visited the library last year to use a computer.
And, while the library is more than a repository for books, those books are also part of a crucial role the library plays in our community. In low income families, there is just one book for every 300 children compared to 13 books for each child growing up in a middle class family. That’s why the literacy programs offered at the library are so important to the 40,000 children who attended them last year.
Consider the value of the library’s circulation of over 1,400,000 books, DVDs and CDs, which happens to be the largest in the state. That’s approximately $14 million of content delivered to Cedar Rapids residents at no cost. That number is actually intentionally smaller than the collection at the library before the flood.
A smaller collection, though, hasn’t led to less visitors. While the city’s population has grown by just more than 8,000 since 2008, visits to the library have increased by nearly 250,000. Last year, over 660,000 people visited the Cedar Rapids libraries. That’s more than any other library in the state, two times more than the number of people who attend events at the U.S. Cellular Center and more than all the attendees of a Hawkeye football game if Kinnick Stadium was sold out for every game all season.
All those people using the library in so many different ways means more operational costs. It’s not that the library is too big or too inefficient. It’s simply that more people are walking through the doors every day.
Yet, our above average library is operating with an average or below average budget compared to other libraries across the state, many of which already have a levy in place. If the levy doesn’t pass, CRPL’s budget will fall to the bottom of the list. That means closing on Sundays, reducing programming both in the library and throughout the community and choosing between adding to the collection and incurring debt.
Consider this: If you own a home in Cedar Rapids worth $150,000 the levy will cost you around $23 a year. That’s less than five lattes. It’s the equivalent of buying two books or DVDs. And this is one tax you can rest assured will go where it’s intended. The money cannot be used for anything other that funding the library.
We cannot think of another public building as important to a community as a library taking into account the myriad of critical and inspirational services and programs it offers. Part of that success at the Cedar Rapids Public Library was designing a dynamic space. More so, though, is how the community has embraced the library and made it their own.
That is why we as a community must come together to support this most public of all institutions.
Please show your support on Nov. 3 and vote yes for the 27 cent levy.