The executive director of Salt Lake City, John Spears, has proposed a plan to open the main library for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An assessment and feasibility study (in process) has to be completed and analyzed. The City Council has to approve the plan to accept private funds and spend the money. If all concerns are answered, the library may implement the plan sometime in the summer of 2015.
The proposal is to open the first and second floors of the library to the public outside of regular business hours. It would include the magazines, newspapers, computers and the inside Wi-Fi system. If there are no problems, the project could last two years. Constant evaluation will take place since this is a test. No other public library in the U.S. now is considering such a plan. If the test is successful, it may become permanent.
Concerns about the potential influx of homeless patrons have been raised. But sleeping in the library is not allowed. In this and the other libraries with homeless in the area, there seem to be very few problems. The homeless respect the rules and the staff and don't make trouble.
For those who feel they have no other place to go, the library could provide shelter. Services that try to assist, educate and move homeless people into more stable living arrangements could be more successful when working with the homeless in the library. The alternative is to let the homeless roam downtown during the night, which could be a safety threat to them and to others. Homeless roaming downtown can destroy the late-night vibrancy of the area.
The main beneficiaries would be the residents and the businesses nearby. People want to be near libraries, especially libraries that are open more than the normal hours, which tend to be shortened on weekends.
Stores stay open 24 hours because there are enough customers to justify the hours. That should be proof that there are enough patrons at night for a 24-hour library.
A library is an important benefit to an area. It can be an anchor to a community, like a university or a supermarket. Opening the library for 24 hours a day provides a convenience to many who would not otherwise be able to use the library. With the adjacent TRAX station and many nearby bus lines, it allows easy transit between the university and the main city library.
If the main library opened for 24 hours a day, it could help UTA justify operating 24 hours a day in that area, thereby helping to attract more people to the downtown area. It would help draw in developers and businesses that feel that, with a 24-hour library, there are enough amenities to build more residences and open more new businesses downtown. This could be the start of what many have dreamed of — a 24-hour city.
Arguing against this proposal doesn't make sense until the test runs its course and the results are evaluated. The proposal to open the downtown main library for 24 hours a day, seven days a week could be the best thing to happen to downtown since construction of the main library. This kind of project can create the synergy that will encourage successful mixed-use transit-oriented development. Downtown Salt Lake City should look forward to the energy that such a proposal would bring downtown.
George Chapman is a former naval officer, a retired engineer, a local activist and organizer.