Friday, February 13, 2009

Day 69/365 Loving Libraries....All of Them

Today, well, actually tomorrow for us, but today for them, is Library Lovers Day in Australia. Yes, Australia is a country that actually has an entire day devoted to libraries. I could be very happy there I think.

It being Library Lovers Day reminded me of all the great libraries I've grown up with - real libraries, not these modern boxes with formica tables and multi-colored walls. So I went scoping out the web looking for pics of my libraries, the ones I lived in as a child, on account of while I was using them, I was reading, and not taking pictures.

The earliest one I visited on my own as an elementary school student was the Ames Public Library in Ames, Iowa. That's the building in the background in the top photo (taken at the dedication of the new 1985 addition). See how it has the huge round columns? Built out of granite blocks? This is a proper library and it set the tone for my library expectations for the rest of my life. Inside it had marble floors, dark carved woodwork, and a balcony mezzanine for the adult stacks. I was admitted to the adult stacks when I was still in elementary school, following a visit by my mother to the head librarian. I had read every book in the childrens section, and was detained trying to check out an adult selection. After this little misunderstanding was straightened out, I spent many long summer days, sitting in the floor up in the balcony stacks, reading one book after the other.

During high school, research papers demanded more than the town library could provide, and with the world still being Google-less in the 1970s, I start using the Iowa State University Parks Library. It was more than adequate, a beautiful albeit modern facility, but I never warmed to it, with the exception of its card catalog - it had miles and miles of beautiful oak card catalogs, just begging to be explored. For the young people out there, think of it as google-on-a-card (millions of cards).

Then I went away to college and found the Weyerhauser Library at Macalester- it quickly became my home away from home. Although it's now the college administration building, at the time it had a rat maze of stacks, winding and twisting, floor after floor, with study desks tucked in cubicles, and not a computer in sight. I loved it.

But the St. Paul Central Library is the epitome of The True Library. Built in 1917, in the Italian Renaissance style, the exterior is Tennessee marble, with the interior lined with round marble columns supporting wide staircases surrounded with carved woodwork and friezes that include carvings of both Norse mythology gods and angels, all drawing the reader to formal reading rooms filled with dark massive oak tables that sit under multi-corniced, skylighted ceilings, encircled by mezzanine balcony stacks with scrolled ironwork. This library forever set in my mind what a real library should be. The only library I have ever enjoyed more than the St. Paul Central Library is the National Library of Congress (more on that in another post).

Just down the street from our former home in St. Paul is the Hamline Branch of the St. Paul Library system - this was the one I took my daughter to for story time. It's a solid 1930 brick building with marble floors, dark woodwork, big heavy doors, and the ceremonial steps (the steps of a library set the tone: they "present" the building and its contents, telling anyone approaching that this is a special place. Or at least I think they do.)

As much time as I spend there, I haven't quite fallen in love with our library here in town yet - it's too new, and has no imposing steps or the old architecture I love. It feels open and airy, two elements that never mesh with the word "library" to me.

I would be perfectly happy with an old, dark library, one having floor-to-ceiling shelves with those rolling ladders, some Oriental rugs on the marble floors, and -my one change- big overstuffed comfy chairs in the stacks. And maybe each chair could have a small mini-frig, so I wouldn't have to leave the stacks for non-literary sustenance.

I'll be the one in the comfy chair, way back in the corner.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you! the older libraries are the best! There is nothing better than losing yourself among the stacks.