November 11, 2009 4:18 PM
Madison historian (and general man about town) Stu Levitan got our attention last night at the City Council budget meeting when he noted that a decision by the Council back in 1902 to build a new library was an action that benefited our community for the next six decades. That 1902 building lasted until the current Central Library was built in the 1960s. It's almost a certainty that the new Central Library approved by the Council last night and to be opened in 2012 will last at least as long.
I never expected back in August when I made the decision to try for this in my capital budget, that the new library would be approved with so little contentiousness in the end. That's owed in large part to the Madison Library Board and Foundation and to the Fiore Company, the library developer, for laying such a strong foundation for the project.
This is a project that will create much-needed jobs and add to the overall value of a key downtown block. But it's also an important statement about our values as a community. Public library use is a measure of the health of any city. Strong and well-utilized public libraries like ours reflect a community that is curious, and curious people test ideas, they try new things and, in the end, they transform and improve their communities. The new Central Library should be the civic ground zero of our community, a place where people come to exchange and explore ideas. The fact that our City Council approved this renewal of that institution with so little acrimony speaks well of the Council and of our city altogether.
New generations of Madisonians will benefit from the decision of the Council of 2009 just as previous generations benefited from the wise choice of the Council of 1902. Stu Levitan was right when he told the Council, "When you honor the past, the future will honor you."