Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

Washington County Pilot-Tribune and Enterprise Pub: Blair Library Opens Next Chapter

Apr 4, 2017
In The News

The City of Blair will celebrate the grand opening of its 24,000-square-foot Blair Public Library and Technology Center on Saturday morning with flag-raising and dedication ceremonies. Lt. Gov. Mike Foley and U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry will speak.

While we gape amidst the fanfare this weekend at the vibrantly-colored, open-concept haven for reading and learning, it's also necessary to step back and take a moment to reflect upon what an accomplishment this has been for the community.

Libraries are not what they used to be. We used to visit libraries whenever we needed a book to reference, when we wanted some fresh reading material and even when we wanted to enjoy hours of quiet time to ourselves.

We still do those things at libraries, but the advent of the internet and the ways in which we can access information and read books has vastly expanded.

That's why the fact that a private foundation and city, state and federal governments collected a total of $6.15 million in donations, grants and loans to build such a high-tech, expansive new library in a small, rural community is so remarkable. Champions for the new library held their project to a high standard, and they didn't back down. They deserve credit.

Funding came from the Blair Public Library Foundation ($2.5 million), the City of Blair ($600,000), a Nebraska Department of Economic Development grant ($375,000) and a 40-year USDA facilities loan ($2.67 million; the Foundation will repay the loan with annual lease payments from the city).

The Foundation also received an anonymous $250,000 donation from a private foundation for a sustainability fund, which means there is already a jumpstart on funding future needs for the building.

Some people have expressed skepticism about the project — that it is was too expensive, and that it's unnecessary because no one visits libraries.

We recommend that critics educate themselves about what that $6.14 million has purchased. A good way to do that is to attend the grand opening at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. After the ceremony, Foundation members and library staff will be on hand to demonstrate some of the technology and to give tours. Or, visit the library anytime to check it out. Maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised.

The new library definitely contains lots of books, of course, but also an exhibit gallery, study rooms, a genealogy room, a makerspace, youth gaming space, public meeting rooms and wireless internet for the public.

It's more of a community center than just a library. Blair has a need for exhibit and meeting space, and this fills that gap. The makerspace allows youth, adults, businesses and organizations to use advanced, costly equipment that may not be accessible to them otherwise. Students will get hands-on experience with technology that will help them in school and when they enter the workforce.

The Blair Public Library and Technology Center is really a testament to what happens when a community joins forces to make things happen. It will be a selling point for Blair and a shining example of teamwork and community pride.

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