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EDITORIAL: Library did its homework

October 25, 2014

Indy’s libraries have continued to draw crowds thanks in part to their calculated evolution—from warehouses for physical books to gathering places for digital and collaborative learning.

Indianapolis Public Library officials say the next step in the transformation is a strategy for 2015 to 2020 that calls for $59 million in improvements to existing libraries and the construction of six new buildings—four to replace existing locations and two new branches.

The library plans to raise the funds through seven individual bond issues over six years—with no need for an increase in property tax rates—but is seeking City-County Council approval for the entire plan at once.

The strategy—developed over the course of months with feedback from hundreds of library users—looks like a winner. We get new and improved community amenities without forking over more taxes.

Just one issue gives us pause: We would have liked to see the matter put to a vote. Under state law, a single project costing more than $12 million would have required a referendum. We’d venture a guess that even a tax-wary electorate would have opted for better libraries instead of a modest drop in taxes.

But library officials correctly note their branch improvements, while proposed as a package, actually are separate projects set to come online at different times. And the most expensive of the bunch—a $10.2 million branch for Glendale—still falls well below the $12 million threshold.

A referendum also would have been costly for the library, and raising the money at once would have forced the system to spend the proceeds more quickly. Library leaders are wise to upgrade their facilities in a patient, deliberate fashion.

Library officials have made every effort to solicit feedback, including via public meetings at every branch location, and have incorporated suggestions into their plan. Members of the public also will have opportunity to be heard as the City-County Council reviews the proposal.

We’d like to make a few suggestions of our own:

• Reduce the temptation to build libraries on large plots of undeveloped land, and reuse existing buildings where possible.

• Choose sites with easy transit and pedestrian access, near large concentrations of potential library users.

• Insist on architecture that raises the bar above the frugal, good-enough standards that pervade Indianapolis.•

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