An idea for Library Director Bobby Roberts' retirement in 2016 | Arkansas Blog

Friday, February 27, 2015

An idea for Library Director Bobby Roberts' retirement in 2016

Posted By on Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 7:16 AM

click to enlarge A QUIET RETIREMENT?: Bobby Roberts plans to retire in 2016. We have other ideas that might keep him out of his wife Kathy's hair at home. - LITTLE ROCK SOIREE
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  • A QUIET RETIREMENT?: Bobby Roberts plans to retire in 2016. We have other ideas that might keep him out of his wife Kathy's hair at home.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Chelsea Boozer reported this morning on Central Arkansas Library System Director Bobby Roberts' note to staff that he plans to retire in 2016 after 27 years as head of the library system.

He's 70, but an ever-active 70 and I think if retirement is bad news for anyone it will be his wife, Kathy. If he's around the house up the hill from me futzing full time with his model trains, Civil War books and untold other projects, it could be a headache. Though he will be on hand to do more heavy lifting in their showcase yard. So I have an idea.

Bobby Roberts is, as others remarked in the story and many times before, a visionary. The popular library system has grown exponentially in the digital era to be much more than a place for books. It is also a place for enrichment, lectures, entertainment and community gatherings of every description. The Clinton Library has undoubtedly helped ignite the new downtown around the River Market, but many forget that it was the library's foothold in an old warehouse that really jump-started that neighborhood. The system has also used Roberts' political skills to build a tax base that has built architecturally significant — and wildly popular — neighborhood libraries throughout the system. Who could have envisioned the stunning children's library in a forgotten inner city neighborhood hard by a freeway? Roberts did.

So you know about the libraries. What you might not know is that Roberts, a former aide to Gov. Bill Clinton, doesn't play beanbag when he plays politics. He plays tough. The smile on his face and the profane utterance in the governor's office one night after a protracted battle won by the Clinton administration over the Family Council's effort to kill condom distribution to teens remains one of the great memories of my 42 years of reporting. Also: Did you know his library was a pioneer in providing domestic partner health insurance coverage? Don't tell Bart Hester.

I'm no utter Roberts sycophant. I argued bitterly with him when he threw in with the Stephens family (owners of the Capital Hotel) to block a hotel proposed for Clinton Avenue near the library and next to its Institute for Arkansas Studies. But the mixed-use Arcade Building, in which the library is a partner, is in retrospect a better outcome, with its fancy Cache restaurant and the adjacent Ron Robinson Theater.

Visionary. Tough. Progressive. Politically astute. A winner.

Here's an idea for retirement: Prepare to run for mayor in 2018.

In the meanwhile, get back with the Stephens forces and see if you can come up with an idea to match North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith's bold idea to build a $100-milion-plus new home for the Arkansas Arts Center in downtown Argenta. To date, Little Rock hasn't had much to offer except griping. Monumental additions to the metropolitan area's aesthetic infrastructure are good things for everyone, wherever they are built.

See the Central Arkansas Library System.

CORRECTION: I referred to Roberts originally as former Clinton chief of staff. He wasn't. And doesn't look a bit like Betsey Wright. He was a legislative aide at the time in question, known as one of the "Governor's Dogs."

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