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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

New Charlotte library points to a future where (hopefully) we gather with strangers again

As of last Friday, the Main Library in uptown Charlotte is closed. I suspect a lot of you won’t miss it.

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That version of the library wasn’t the most welcoming place. There was a muted entrance on a side street. Some of the inside had been fixed up, but other parts looked a little shopworn. It was loaded with good stuff — from rare books to the latest DVDs, plus a ton more in its digital system — but it didn’t feel like a destination.

The new Main Library, scheduled to open four years from now at a cost of $100 million, is meant to be a destination.

The new entrance will be on North Tryon Street, and it’ll include an outdoor terrace for events. It’ll have a café, a sunroom and big windows opening onto uptown. The idea is to get people to come to the library not just to check out books, but to meet for lunch or come see a lecture or just hang out. The phrase they use is “public commons.”

But these last two years, as the library’s vision inched closer to reality, the whole idea of a public commons has taken on a darker tone.

I think most of us still long to get together in one way or another. But COVID-19 has made a lot of us re-think being in any kind of crowd. I worry that the pandemic has permanently changed the way we think about gathering with strangers.

I’ve always chased experiences more than stuff. Some of my best memories are from being in a big crowd where we were all experiencing something together. Singing along with the Boss to “Born To Run.” High-fiving the fan in the next row when the Panthers score. Or just that moment in a sold-out movie theater when the lights go down. But since early 2020, I haven’t been to a concert or a Panthers game or a movie. We’ve barely been to church.

We took a chance in September and went to the Georgia-Clemson football game with 73,000 other fans. My group wore masks and crossed our fingers and things turned out OK. But there are still all these other holes in our lives, and we still don’t know when we’ll feel safe filling them.

If the new Main Library opened today, I don’t think I’d go.

But it’s opening four years from now. If we’re still stuck with this virus four years from now, we’ll be in real trouble. Instead, I’m going to choose to think of that time as something to look forward to. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be able to gather at a beautiful new library. Maybe meet some old friends there, and hug them, without a mask or a care.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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