Our $2 million library is a bargain at any price

It was my great pleasure to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony at our new $2 million library last week. I was far from alone, as hundreds of people from all over East Texas were on hand to see the fruits of the McMillan Foundation’s generosity. I am thrilled with how it has turned out. My family and I have stopped by regularly since it opened the following Monday and look forward to countless visits in the days, months, years, to come.

However, it’s not all roses and rainbows. Since news of this endeavor first became public several months back, there’s been more than one individual who has voice their displeasure with this project to me.

A comment I’ve heard a few times goes something like this: “Why a library? Wouldn’t that money be better spent on improving roads, water, or downtown sidewalks?” Another is: “Libraries are a thing of the past, everything’s online now, and more people use iPad/Kindle/Nook for their reading now.”

Of course, everyone is entitled to express his or her opinion. I’m thankful to live in a culture were disagreements can be voiced in open and constructive dialogue.

That said, I believe the benefits of this facility far outweigh the aforementioned points. Thus, it is my hope to argue that this project is more than worth the time, money, and resources that went into bringing it here.

First and foremost: I heartily disagree that “brick and mortar” libraries are necessarily a thing of the past.

Even as technology has certainly made books accessible via the digital medium, libraries can still play an important part in providing people with books. The Rusk County Public Library System, like others, is making the transition toward providing this service. I look forward to a day in the near future when I can peruse the library’s virtual shelves on my hand-held device, download a few e-books, and go on my way. Though, I admit, I’m still enough of an old-school bibliophile to prefer the sensual experience of holding the book in my hand. I just like the smell of ‘em. Don’t judge me.

Next, providing free reading materials is but one of many services our public libraries offer.

Working for the local county newspaper, seldom a day goes by where a library in our area is not doing some special event or community service. From children’s story times to GED testing to business seminars to community events, public libraries represent a centralized venue for any number of local activities that enrich us all.

Go by the McMillan Library on a random morning or afternoon and any idea that libraries are a thing of the past will soon disappear in the face of the steady stream of patrons utilizing the many services available free of charge to the public.

The next point I want to respond to is a bit more delicate, and let me preface this by saying that I do not speak for the Bruce McMillan, Jr. Foundation, the Friends of the Library, or anyone else. This is purely my own opinion. With that out of the way, I feel it’s important to state the McMillan Foundation is a private organization. As such, they are free to do whatever they want to with their funds.

If they want to spend their money on a mile-long Slip ‘N Slide that spans the length of the railroad tracks, they’re free to do so. Uh, of course, I doubt they’d be able to secure the property and/or clearance from city and county authorities, but my point still stands.

They are a private foundation, with certain stated priorities. One of their primary endeavors during the existence of the Foundation is education, of which our public library is an important component. While roads, water, sidewalks and other municipal accouterments are certainly very important to any community, I for one don’t feel that it is a local private non-profit foundation’s responsibility to manage. We’ve got our city administration to handle those matters with our tax dollars, which is why we elect them to public office.

Of course, there’s no reason why the Foundation and the city (or the local school district!) can’t partner up for one project or another. Indeed they have from time-to-time over the years. But I just find the idea that a foundation is obliged to underwrite such a large undertaking to be absurd. That’s not their job. If the Foundation wants to chip in, fine, but they’re not obligated to neither should it be a given.

Moreover, and in summation, I feel this new facility has already done a lot to improve the socioeconomic profile of the Overton-New London community.

From the moment your crest the top of the hill on South Commerce Street, the fresh green lawn grabs your attention, then after passing the small wooded area behind it, the library looms into view.

Not the abandoned former church that sat there unattended for far too long, not the old castle-like mansion that moldered there before the Calvary Baptist folks took it over to build their church, but a glorious 10,000 square-foot Georgian-influenced structure with exquisite landscaping and abundant parking.

For a town with far too many vacant buildings and storefronts, seeing something like this helps create a strong impression on the vitality of our community.

If nothing else, to see that there’s still economic and cultural possibilities in Overton makes our new $2 million library a bargain at any price.

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