We finally got to visit the new central library here in Austin and it’s better than I had even hoped for. A stunning building full of spectacular views and wonderful spaces. We had to bribe the kids with lollipops to get them to leave.
Inside, I felt how Witold Rybczynski writes about feeling upon visiting Chicago’s Harold Washington Library Center in his essay, “A Good Public Building,” collected in Mysteries of The Mall:
The atmosphere was different from that in other public buildings. Unlike a museum, it had no price of admission, and the security guards were unobtrusive; the stacks were open, and the books were there to be picked up and leafed through. There was also a more mixed crowd than one finds in a museum or a concert hall: groups of teenagers, elderly men and women, college students, street people. In a period where even art museums are beginning to resemble shopping malls, this library stands apart. It didn’t make me feel like a consumer, or a spectator, or an onlooker; it made me feel like a citizen.
Feeling like a citizen. That’s it. Walking around this building might be the first time in a decade of living here that I’ve actually felt real civic pride. In his opening remarks, Mayor Adler called it “our cathedral… nothing less than a holy place for your imagination and collaboration.” I love that.
In a garbage year full of so many losses for democracy, this feels like a win.