Monday, November 25, 2013

Considerations When Selecting A Library Site

Architects consider the site before they design the building that will sit on it. Vistas must be considered. Ease of access, availability of roads, and the presence of necessary infrastructure all go into site selection.

When it's a library that's going to be built, those considerations have to be examined and discussed, with every site getting a thorough analysis. You wouldn't build a library that was difficult to get to, nor would you want to start construction when there was no existing sewer service in the area.

And all that is just for an ordinary library. It gets more complicated when it's a presidential library to be situated.

For all the hoopla surrounding the notion, presidential libraries don't get all that many visitors. Scholars might take a look at the presidential papers contained in the stacks, and sometimes an ordinary visitor will show up to look at a display of presidential memorabilia, but the facility is more of an ego-boost for the former president and a status symbol for the library's host.
Better for poker than presidents

So if there won't be a lot of visitors, the City of Chicago would just as soon not have the library committee consider the valuable undeveloped property on the city's south side, the former Michael Reese Hospital grounds that were originally purchased for Olympic housing. Well, the Olympics didn't come, and the area is unused, but a Barack Obama Presidential Library is not the sort of facility that Chicago needs at that place.

They'd much rather see a casino there. People actually go to casinos, in large numbers, and they gamble, which the city gets a cut of. Presidential library? There's no money in it.

The University of Illinois at Chicago, formerly known as Circle Campus, would very much like to add an Obama library to its collection of buildings. The new building could sit right next to the Mayor Daley library, adjacent to Hull House. Or what's left of the old Hull House complex. Most of it had to go, to make room for the new university that Richard Daley was determined to build in his city, even though it displaced thousands of Italian-Americans and destroyed a vibrant neighborhood. It was put up as part of the great urban renewal push in the 1960's, and stands today as one of the ugliest college settings in the nation.

But it also sits at the conjunction of several major highways. The infrastructure is there. The space to build is there.

Granted, there is no connection whatsoever between President Obama and Circle Campus, except for a friendship with William Ayers who was a long-time professor of education at UIC. Mr. Obama is associated with the University of Chicago, well to the south of UIC, a fact that UIC must somehow counter if they are to win the coveted collection of memorabilia associated with America's first African-American president.

So while the University of Chicago and UIC fight it out with the University of Hawaii, the city of Chicago will step back and let them have at it. The former Michael Reese Hospital site, with all its acreage, is not going to become a presidential library any time soon. Unless Mr. Obama would not object to having his important papers housed next to the banks of slot machines and video poker games?

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