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Public spaces author to lecture on libraries’ importance

BY RACHAEL LANDER | JUNE 12, 2009 7:26 AM

For some kids, going to the library was looked forward to with anticipation, but age brings dwindling trips to public spaces.

Journalist, author, and former DI staffer Jay Walljasper said it shouldn’t be that way — libraries stand as a symbol of places where people can freely meet and enjoy friendship and knowledge.

He will present “Everything I Need to Know I Learned at the Public Library: Important Lessons Drawn from Books, Librarians, Neighbors and Life Itself” Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.

“A few years ago, there was a lot of talk about how we don’t really need libraries anymore,” Walljasper said. “The truth is if you do a little research on libraries today, their circulation is higher than it’s ever been.”

Heidi Lauritzen, who works with the Iowa City Public Library’s circulation service, said there has been a clear increase in the number of items being checked out by patrons.

“It’s pretty common in times of economic downturns for library use to go up, and that’ s been true over the decades and I think that may be part of the reason now,” she said.

Despite a slight drop in circulation from 2005 to 2006 — which, she said, was due to the move to the library’s new home — the public space has seen a 3 percent increase in circulation each fiscal year from 2006 to now.

A journalist with a passion for travel writing, an author of two nonfiction books with a third in the works, and a public speaker, Walljasper said he has spent many years using public libraries.

Not only do they serve his literary and research needs, he said, but the public spaces continue to be his haven when he writes.

Some of the content Walljasper focuses on in his writing — he’s worked for National Geographic Travel, Better Homes & Gardens, and Chicago Magazine among many others — is on city development. Walljasper has traveled the globe researching positive and negative attributes in countless towns around the world.

“More and more, when I have the opportunity, I’m really interested in what makes cities and communities succeed or not succeed,” he said. “I spend a lot of time studying that in various places around the world.”

Walljasper credits Iowa City for not just inspiring him to write during his years as an undergraduate, but for playing a key role in his passion for city development.

“It’s an extremely well-designed town in terms that you have a thriving business district that’s right next to the campus,” he said. “I think I just really maybe didn’t always appreciate that until I left Iowa City and realized what a rare gift that was.”

Karen Howard, an associate Iowa City planner, said public spaces are integral to good urban planning.

“The buildings and the land uses need to relate to the space that you’re in, and we need to relate to how people in the community use the space,” she said. “I think it’s important in areas where people tend to congregate to have usable public space.”

Walljasper recently got back from a stay in Italy — which, he said, is taking over his focus — but his goal is to make it to Slovenia in the near future.

“I dearly love to travel; I always have,” he said. “Sometimes for me, it’s really the last place I’ve been is the place I’m most excited about.”


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