Libraries make strong communities. Reading, learning and education, whether pre-K through 12th grade, higher education, or recreational, is the key to empowering a population, and helping community members achieve all they are capable of and aspire to be, regardless of their station. Those opportunities should be available to all. That’s why the city of Boise’s developing plans for a new main library campus in the heart of downtown are so incredibly exciting. This landmark public space will house an extraordinary array of programs and services for everyone in our community, and become a point of pride for generations of Boiseans to come.
For me, this project is about what’s possible for our fine city. As envisioned now, it will be a place of inspiration, creativity and contemplation worthy of a successful city with a bright future. And the vision to make it a focal point for education, as well as arts, culture and history by incorporating the city’s Department of Arts and History, adds a new dimension of unique synergy.
No longer limited to books and information, libraries here and across the country are experiencing a surge in demand. The services they provide are more relevant than ever as part of the fabric of any thriving democratic community.
On a more practical note, the current main library must be replaced. It’s a remodeled hardware warehouse that is already too small and outdated to accommodate the 4,000 patrons who walk through its doors every day – much less provide the services expected of a 21st century library in a thriving, growing city.
The early support for the project has been phenomenal, with more than $12 million in philanthropic commitments during the campaign’s quiet phase, with an ultimate goal of $18 million from private partners. Beyond that, financing for the $80 million project is structured so that Boise residents will not see a tax increase – no new levies will be needed to pay for the library campus.
While much of the press and the community’s focus has been on the building itself, the truly exciting part of this effort is what will be happening inside. Right now, in its inadequate space, the Main Library provides around 80 separate programs and services – everything from children’s storytime, clubs for teens, access to computers and Wi-Fi, legal clinics and assistance with income taxes, to ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. Imagine the programming possibilities in an expanded space designed to accommodate classes, camps, exhibits, galleries and our city’s archives.
The time for deepening these important connections in Boise is now. This initiative is similar to others we have undertaken and supported as a community in order to grow and drive a more enlightened and prosperous future. Obviously, there is rarely, if ever, unanimity of opinion in a community as diverse and vibrant as ours. But I do know that many – for many years – have joined me in supporting education and the arts in our great town.
That is why it is so disheartening to see some trying to change the rules in order to derail the library initiative. Have we not seen enough of dysfunction and rule-changing at the national level to know that when such tactics are undertaken, the results are filled with unintended consequences, including dysfunction and extremism? I say, “Not in our community!” If there’s a need to deliberate about how our government should work, it should not be done through the lens of any specific building or program. We have an existing process for this kind of debate and decision making. We should continue to follow it while moving forward.
Our city’s success shows that the time is right for this community investment. This new library campus will enrich one of the most important endeavors we undertake as a community and democracy: the fostering and development of an informed, engaged and healthy citizenry of all ages.
Mark Durcan is the former CEO of Micron Technology and co-chairman of the campaign for building a new library campus in Downtown Boise.