Libraries Should be Magical Places
They're not just warehouses for books.
I love libraries. Libraries and I go way back. In the days before TV the library was my main form of entertainment—after movies, of course. My love of books was and is an obsession, thanks in large part to libraries. My parents weren’t big readers. We didn’t keep a lot of books in our house, though I had my own bookcase in my bedroom, and it was filled with books like these:
My dad didn’t read much and probably wouldn’t have thought about going to libraries on his own, but his daughter, his only child at the time (my two brothers came along much later), couldn’t get enough of books. He tried to keep me satisfied by buying a book every two weeks, on payday—books like the above, which I’d choose from the list inside the covers, but even that couldn’t keep me satisfied.
He realized at some point that those big buildings holding thousands of free books were the answer to his prayers.
The McGregor (above) in Highland Park, a small city within the boundaries of Detroit, was gorgeous. Even at such a young age (10 or 11) I felt privileged to be there. Terrazzo floors, marble columns, carved oak, leaded windows and doors, full-sized paintings on the walls—and books. So many books.
While my dad sat at a table reading newspapers I wandered from stack to stack, from floor to floor, reveling in the looks of those books, the smells, the thought that every one of them could be mine for the borrowing. I often chose books that were far beyond my reading capacity, based solely on covers or first sentences or even heft. I loved books.
And I love libraries. There are beautiful libraries and then there are cozy libraries, and I believe they should be one or the other.
The Children's Sections should be way cool, with chairs and tables to sit at and rugs to roll around on and murals and hanging things with lots of color to stimulate the senses and make the notion of reading so much fun those kids can't stand it and can’t wait to come back.
But I'm writing this today because I’m staying at my daughter's house for the winter, and I went to her local library yesterday. She lives in a suburb downriver from Detroit, so I'm sure their tax base is doing okay, and from the outside this library looked okay, too. So it wasn't for lack of money. But from the minute I walked in the door the vibe that hit me was 'we're doing this because we have to, not because we want to'.
There are books on shelves, along with videotapes and DVDs and CDs, and they all had signs above them, so you knew what was supposed to be there, but there are no available tables and chairs, no comfortable seating, no murals, no artwork on the walls, no sign that this was a place to just hang around.
The tables and benches are in closed-off rooms, but you had to make appointments to go in there. (I’m guessing to keep out the homeless and the riffraff, none of which I’ve ever seen around here.)
I saw two public computers, both at stand-up stations.
I knew I was in the children's section because a sign said so and there are children's books in there, but I couldn't tell you where it began or where it ended because there was nothing childlike about it. Nothing magical or inviting. Nothing that would make a child or even an adult want to be there. Or ever want to go back.
I've never before been in a library like it, and I walked around it for way too long, waiting to be drawn in, waiting for that old feeling—and it just wasn't there. It made me appreciate almost every other library I've ever been in, thankful for an imaginative staff who knew there had to be magic there, because reading is magical.
So let’s talk about libraries today. I’ll leave you with this photo of the Kansas City Public Library parking garage facade. I absolutely love this and applaud the group who came up with the idea. The story is linked in the caption.
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Thank you for this. I enjoy libraries very much and support them as much as I can.
I've loved libraries forever. I remember walking a couple miles to get to one as a child. It was a magic place. The most memorable library I've been in is at Trinity College in Dublin .