Fate of Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System as much a topic as fate of Central Library

By David Pendered

The fate of the Central Library in Downtown Atlanta will be the red herring at a meeting Tuesday. The real issue that’s not on the agenda is much more significant – the long-term viability of the Atlanta-Fulton Pubic Library System.

Central Library

The fate of Central Library is on the agenda of a Tuesday meeting, even as funding shortfalls have prompted the library system to cut hours and buy fewer materials. Credit: flickr.com

The one item on the agenda is what’s to become of Central Library. Members of the library board decided in May that two options exist – renovate the 1980 structure, or build a new library somewhere else in the downtown area.

The situation facing the library system and, by extension, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners that funds the library system, is that the system still has money to spend from the $275 million bond issue that voters approved in 2008.

The second phase of construction is to begin this year. Projects include the Central Library, for which $85 million has been earmarked. An unspecified number of other projects are pending, according to information the system has released. The library system has already opened seven new libraries.

However, even as facilities are built, the county is cutting library services, according to a letter library board Chairperson Stephanie Moody sent a letter to Fulton County’s Board of Commissioners.

The laundry list Moody drafted includes these two items:

Alpharetta Branch

The Alpharetta Branch is one of seven new libraries that have opened with proceeds of a $275 million bond referendum approved in 2008. Credit: afpls.org

  • Total operating hours each week have shrunk by a third since 2014. That represents a drop of more than 500 hours, from 1,562 hours in 2014 to 966 currently, on weekdays and weekends;
  • The budget for materials was cut by more than half, to $1.6 million. Moody’s letter notes: “As one patron put it, ‘Can’t something be done to rethink the county’s priorities and bring back what was lost?’”

Declines in spending to operate the library system are evident in Fulton County’s budget. Fulton commissioners approved $27.6 million for the library in the current 2016 budget cycle. That’s 4 percent below the 2012 actual budget of $28.8 million, according to Fulton’s budget documents.

Against this backdrop, rumors have swirled that the library system intends to close and sell the Central Library As so often is the case in Atlanta, the building was designed by a noted architect. The prospect of losing the building has ignited a backlash – small to date, but precedent suggests the fire could spread. Moody emphasized at a board meeting that no plan has been made regarding the future of the Central Library.

A petition to save the building already is being circulated by the non-profit Architecture and Design Center, member Nathan Koskovich told the library board in March, according to minutes of the meeting. He said organization was founded to promote architectural heritage in Atlanta and Georgia.

Koskovich told the library board that it’s not too early to start an effort to save the building:

  • “It’s a significant building. It’s a building been studied by architects and scholars all over the world. It is by a significant architect, Marcel Breuer. This is one of his last projects he completed. In many ways, it’s a sibling project to his Whitney Museum in New York. … We’d also ask that the building be renamed for Marcel Breuer, the architect, who, as far as we know, doesn’t have a library named after him. “
Central Library, concrete

The use of concrete in the Central Library is a feature of architect Marcel Breuer. Credit: phaidon.com

The current interest actually continues an effort that dates to 2008.

At that time, some in the architectural community expressed concerns that the Central Branch would be demolished. They launched an outreach effort, including a website, that was headlined by Isabelle Hyman, a professor of art history at New York Univerity. Their website laid out a case for keeping the existing building.

Breuer’s name may be unfamiliar outside those who follow the Bauhaus school of design. But two of his students at Harvard University have become household names in metro Atlanta.

Philip Johnson designed One Atlantic Center, aka the IBM Tower in Midtown.

I.M. Pei designed the Gulf Oil Building in Midtown that was built in 1949 and demolished in 2013. Pei, incidentally, had agreed to design skyscrapers near Perimeter Mall in the mid 1980s, but DeKalb County’s Board of Commissioners declined to rezone the property from residential to dense commercial and the project was abandoned.

The library board is hosting a public meeting Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the main floor of the library, located at One Margaret Mitchell Square, in Downtown Atlanta.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

13 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    Visit a recently constructed A-FC library and you will find a very expensive building with a small collection that is open a small number of hours.
    The Board suould rethink their goals and business plan hecause their present efforts are not working.Report

    Reply
  2. Burroughston Broch says:

    The A-FC library website lists 32 operating libraries with substantially more weekly operating hours than the 966 quoted in this post. Which is correct?Report

    Reply
  3. Chad Carlson says:

    Perhaps if people view this library in terms of sculpture they would appreciate it more. A similay designed Breuer building in New York City, which once housed the Whitney Museum, was recently celebrated for its 50th anniversary and adopted into the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I think it shows the dichotomy between a city like Atlanta and a city like New York— here it is something to be derided by political leadership while there it is celebrated. With just a little vision this could be so much more than just a library, and with ovet 1300 people signing the petition, there are many others who agree.Report

    Reply
  4. Ronda Racha Penrice says:

    I am still disgusted that the city of Atlanta allowed an I.M. Pei building to be demolished to build another apartment complex. Like really. Is there really any way to save the library in a city that does not appreciate historical character?Report

    Reply
  5. Emil Walcek says:

    As a Fulton County taxpayer I would have liked to have seen reporting on the actual value provided by the Atlanta-Fulton County Library System over the years. Who are its customers? How has library usage changed over the years? Are brick & mortar branches in a digital economy still relevant? In an appropriate context, declining budgets and library system use may or may not be in alignment. Saving a building of historic significance is not the mission of our library system, and another issue altogether.Report

    Reply
  6. Dowager says:

    May I add to the architect-designed buildings slated for destruction, the Christian Church in Buckhead and an apartment building nearby.  Designed by Joseph Amisano, an Atlanta architect, the church
    also exemplifies the Brutalist style.Report

    Reply
  7. CharliePaine says:

    This is what should happen:

    The library system needs to consolidate. In this process the Breuer building should be sold with an easement to be converted into a space that makes sense for the building. ( and personally I beleive it needs to be opened up a little on the Interior) to become a specialized museum or various other public space of some sorts. 

    The library system need to have 2-3 great libraries that are functional, architecturally attractive, well-constructed, and will mean something to this city. 

    I would like to see the Atlanta-Fulton Library System commision a notable architect to design a new building to place on a property that would attribute to the Downtown Atlanta urban fabric in a positive manner.  It would be even more impressive and meaningful to Atlanta to use inspiration from the Carnegie Library they tore down years ago. ( They should even use the blocks of the original structure that are thrown in that trail).  That would be something great for our city if it was done properly. Build onto our heritage, not over it.Report

    Reply
  8. AnnLang says:

    http://www.livefyre.com/profile/107505499/
    I just returned from my old home town of Baton Rouge, where
    they’ve made jaw-dropping improvements to their library
    in the past five years. It makes Fulton County look like a pitiful
    backwater. You’re right; the 20th century library is an outdated
    concept. But the 21st century library integrates
    digital media, community services, and social services, and I REALLY wish Atlanta would
    get with the program. EBR Parish now has an award-winning,
    LEED-certified, 12,000 square ft building for their main library. It has a covered plaza
    for outdoor events, dozens of study rooms, multiple auditoriums for
    churches, government, educational, and non-profits to meet in – and it
    also RENTS them to businesses as public meeting spaces. It’s open til 10
    pm every night. It has resume writing services and free Skype
    facilities to help the unemployed find jobs and skill training – not to
    mention a dedicated adult literacy staff, computer training, and
    computer terminals for any parish resident to use (and free printing!).
    It has separate teen and children’s wings, children’s dedicated
    computers, comic book collections, tutoring, and after-school programs.
    It has a floor dedicated to Native American artifacts, special collections, genealogy records (much of which isn’t digital), and academic research support. Heck, you can have a catered event on their cactus-covered green
    roof that looks better than the one at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. I
    can’t even find a place to plug in my laptop in the Brookhaven Library,
    and they’re rolling out chairs with integrated power and USB outlets
    down in the swamp. And yeah, people still were still checking books out by the armload.Report

    Reply
  9. Dowager says:

    Brick and mortar libraries outdated?  Visit the Avis G. Williams/Toco Hills branch of the DeKalb library system. Seniors go there to read current magazines and do research, or just to enjoy the environment, enhanced by woods visible from two sides of the library.  Many check out videos of movies and audiotapes of books as well as books. Mothers and children check out the beautiful children’s books that couldn’t possibly be reproduced on line.

    Not outdated, and a multi-generational community resource like no other.Report

    Reply
  10. AnnLang says:

    Dowager I’m at Avis Toco Hills at least once a week. It’s always full of seniors, students, homeschoolers, mothers, kids, job-seekers, and volunteers, so it clearly fills community needs. (And it’s heavily used by remote employees like myself, who want to be out of the house and working in a quiet, non-commercial space with other people. It’s one of the few libraries in the system that was updated for patron laptop use.) But the staff is small, the hours are cripplingly short, and the benches are disintegrating. There’s no soundproofing or separation for the children’s area. And other branch locations are mired in the 80s. Our libraries could be doing *so much more* if more people realized that they AREN’T just places to get physical media. (Or if more people realized that a huge portion of our city really does rely on checking out books, DVDs, and CDs for education and entertainment. Not everyone has a Kindle or even a home computer.)Report

    Reply
  11. Dowager says:

    AnnLang Dowager Then we can add remote users like yourself and many others.  The soundproofing problem should have been addressed in the building plans, but maybe it was assumed that the children would be quiet.Report

    Reply
  12. Sia Myrick says:

    You should’ve seen the BEAUTIFUL building that was on its place before they demolished it to build this….its in that Atlanta history block.Report

    Reply
  13. Dowager says:

    Sia Myrick What did they demolish on that site?  I remember being shocked that they demolished the Southern Railway Station in the early 70s as well as The Carnegie Library, mentioned by someone else in this discussion.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.