Friday, April 08, 2011

Five Years of the New Des Moines Public Library

Des Moines's New Public Library
It's the Des Moines Public Library's fifth birthday.

A spring photo
Yes, really.  The new Central Library opened on April 8, 2006. Old library: a comely, if shabby, brick building, purchased by The World Food Prize Foundation.  New library: 110,000 square feet, two stories and three wings built of concrete with a skin of copper mesh between two sheets of glass. 

The look takes getting used to. The copper reflects and reflects.  It's very glittery.  Inside looking out, there's a copper mesh in the way.  Concrete floor in the lobby.  Ugly.  

Of course I'm used to it now.  As in: it's the ugliest building but there's a LOT of space for books.  Comfortable chairs.  Well, some are comfortable.  Some are, actually, the wrong shape for people.  And when the flowers bloom and the grass greens, the exterior looks better.  Eventually the trees will grow.

The old library.
Libraries across the country have received grants for new buildings.  San Francisco, Denver, and many other cities.  In Iowa, there are  new libraries in Altoona, Iowa City, West Des Moines, and Urbandale, to name a few. All the Des Moines branch libraries have been spruced up by renovations.  Cedar Rapids is building a new library:  the old one downtown was destroyed in the flood of 2008.

With budget cuts, the Des Moines Public Library faces problems, though.  The library reported in 2010 that it had lost $400,000 over two years and must cut an additional $535,000 in 2010-2011.  Of course the building funds are separate from the other funds.  But aren't librarians cursing the government for not finding similar funds for personnel, books, and other normal functions?  Did they need new buildings in the first place?

And there have been plenty of construction glitches in the new library.  According to the March 6 issue of the Des Moines Register, the new boilers have to be repaired or replaced for the second time in five years.  It could cost up to $400,000.  And in 2009, the city settled a lawsuit over defective windows that began to break shortly after the library opened.

City manager Rick Clark told the Register:

"The boilers are pretty much shot.  I don't think anybody could be more frustrated about this than me and our new library director. There's no reason on the face of the Earth this should have happened, but the fact of the matter is we have to do something about it, and we will."
Meanwhile, the World Food Prize Foundation is restoring the old library for $29.8 million.  It did smell of B.O.:  it was like the homeless people's annex, a mile or so away from the homeless encampment on the Des Moines River.  There's no place for the homeless to go.  They can't hang out at the World Food Prize Building.  And  security guards seem to be keeping them OUT of the new library.  I don't know where they're going now. 

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