Closing the Book: The New Cambridge Library

When Cambridge first began discussing a new public library, George Bush--the elder--was in the White House.

Eight years after initial discussions began, the City Council is finally ready to select the site of the city's library for the 21st century.

And in what has become one of its most anticipated decisions, the council is poised to choose between two sites at a Dec. 11 special meeting.

The city currently has a library located on Broadway Street directly behind Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS). The Romanesque building was constructed in 1889, with its most recent additions made in 1967.

But the building has grown dreadfully out of date, with the Cambridge community agreeing a new library has to be built.


"There are very few people in this town that would look at our library and say it does not need some work," says library trustee Janet Axelrod.

Axelrod gives a detailed description of the problems with the current facility.

"It's mostly about what we don't have," she says. "We don't have any really good civic meeting area. We don't have enough room in a reading room for people to come and read and have quiet to do research. Our stacks are a disgrace. I wouldn't be surprised if they're not totally safe."

Councillor Jim Braude provides a more terse description.

"It is antiquated, on a good day," he says.

So since 1992, Cambridge has slowly been struggling to create a new library for the city. In 1996, after public opposition derailed approval of the expansion of the current site, the city manager appointed a committee of residents and city officials to study the need for a new public library.

After 18 months and 23 public meetings, the group, known as Library 21, presented its findings, saying the city needed a large main library of about 100,000 square feet for expanded services and larger collections.

The committee did not, however, make recommendations on a site, saying the city should hire consultants to perform a site study following guidelines of the committee.

In March 1998, the city hired Sasaki Associates, an architectural and urban planning firm, to investigate possible sites for the new library.

In August 1998, the firm presented the council with five new sites as well as the current site for consideration.

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