AUSTIN - From a pile of dirt to a palace of books, the new $125 million Central Library symbolizes the city's commitment to literature.
“I've never seen so many people in one library like this. It's really amazing,” said Michael Mayes, an Austin resident visiting the new location.
During the library's first week, it's been constantly filled with big crowds.
“We certainly see a lot of book checkouts. Our hold section downstairs, where you can reserve a copy of a book, and then come pick it up, that's definitely filling up over the week,” explained Blair Parsons, the facility’s managing librarian.
He said events like the Texas Book Festival highlight the literary scene.
“There's a cultural vibrancy in Austin which we really benefit,” said Parsons, as he discussed what draws authors and writers to the area.
Parsons said the impact of such libraries extends throughout the community.
“I like to consider public libraries as a community’s most democratic space," he explained. "It’s free, it’s not monetized, it’s an opportunity to come engage with each other, come engage with ourselves, engage in self-improvement processes or opportunities, and we’re the anchor of that in the community.”
Another reason: The University of Texas. Many professors at the university have published works, including Kate Winkler Dawson and Jeremi Suri.
“There are loads of writers here who I know I can call and talk to,” said Dawson, who is an associate professor at the School of Journalism at the Moody College of Communications.
Prior to working at UT, Dawson was a television news producer, first getting her start here at KVUE.
“In television news, we write in short, choppy sentences. And that’s certainly not the case in writing, especially narrative, non-fiction books. And I just found that I really liked the process a lot,” Dawson said.
After a career that took her throughout the country, she’s now back in Austin. As a writer, she points to the city’s layout as a big plus.
“There are places in Austin where I'm able to escape, and really get some clarity when I'm writing. And that's really important,” explained Dawson.
Dawson is set to speak as part of a panel at the Texas Book Festival about her new book, "Death in the Air," which examines the 1952 Great Smog of London, a tragedy that was overshadowed by the search for a serial killer.
“I’m thrilled to have such a great city that attracts people from all over the state and all over the country," said Dawson. "And I think the festival is a really great venue for me to share this book, which is really important. This book is more than just a story. It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen when you have a government that ignores the warnings from environmentalists.”
She said lessons from those events can still be applied to today’s society.
“One tweet that's outrageous, one salacious story can completely derail our national conversation about very serious stories,” said Dawson.
Her panel begins at 1:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon at Capitol Extension Room E2.028, and runs until 2:15 p.m. Following the panel, she'll be signing her book in a tent until 3:00 p.m.
Suri, who teaches in the university’s history department, is attending a separate book festival, promoting his new book, "The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office," which examines the history of the presidency.
The Texas Book Festival was established by former First Lady Laura Bush in 1995, and has taken place in Austin annually since 1996. It is free and open to the public.
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