At The Heart Of Town

I worked for a while today at the Stonington Public Library. It’s a nifty little facility with free wireless, a good reading table, and a really excellent book selection for its size. And, like most small town libraries, it’s at the center of it all. While I was there, numerous people stopped by to pick up a book, chat up the friendly librarian, and talk about what’s going on.

Libraries are one of those civic institutions that hold towns together. Stonington has a really good one.

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Our New (Old) Library Branch

IMG_4671Kish and I are big users of the award-winning Columbus Metropolitan Library system.  Now that we have relocated to German Village, we obviously won’t be using the New Albany branch as we have been doing for years.  So, where to go?

It turns out that the venerable Main Library on Grant Avenue is one of the nearest branches of the CML.  It’s an easy walk from German Village and a terrific facility, so we’ve decided to adopt it as our new branch of choice.

The Main Library originally was called the Carnegie Library, and its original building was opened in 1907.  It’s a beautiful marble and granite structure with fantastic interior flourishes, including tiled hallways, stained glass skylights, soaring ceilings, and sweeping staircases.  There’s also a huge modern addition behind the original building that was added in 1991.  It doesn’t have the same architectural panache as the original — at least, not in my view — but it is huge and houses an enormous collection on three sprawling floors.  As a fan of the music CD options the CML offers, it’s nice to be able to browse a different assortment of jazz, classical, and rock options than was found in the New Albany branch and make a few impulse selections, as I did yesterday.

IMG_4667Our timing in beginning to use the Main Library is just about perfect, because the recent addition will be closing in less than two weeks for a major renovation — and, as one of the librarians explained yesterday, the library will somehow try to fit the staff and collection back into the original Carnegie building during the renovation period.  It will be good to see the initial building returned to its intended use again, although it will undoubtedly be a tight squeeze.

The renovation plans are impressive.  One of the main goals is to link the library to Columbus’ Topiary Park to the east by getting rid of an intervening parking lot and fence, landscaping the area, and adding an open deck that will function as a reading area.  It sounds like a terrific idea . . . and any proposal that replaces downtown surface parking lots with more green space has my enthusiastic support as a matter of course.  The east facade of the existing library building also will be replaced with glass, and the library will incorporate some new technology and new features in its children’s space.  All told, the renovation will cost $30.4 million and won’t be completed until summer 2016, which means we’ll get to become very familiar with the Carnegie building in the interim.

Using the Main Library is different from the New Albany branch — it’s far bigger, and the New Albany branch didn’t require the security guards that seem to be an inevitable part of any downtown building that is open to the public — but it has all of the features that make the Columbus Metropolitan Library system so excellent, including the ability to reserve books, CDs, and other parts of the library collection on-line.  Columbus’ Main Library is a treasure to be supported, and I’m glad that the community is investing in it.

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The Libraries Of New England

IMG_2552They say you can know the value a town assigns to an activity by looking at the building where the activity occurs.  If that’s true, it’s obvious that the folks in New England love reading.  Every town we visited — from tiny Tamworth, New Hampshire, to bustling Woodstock, Vermont, to the transitional city of North Adams, Massachusetts — had a very memorable library that seemed perfectly suited to the town it served.

In Tamworth, the Cook Memorial Library, pictured above, dates back to the late 1800s.  It’s a beautiful little white wooden structure with a white picket fence located right in the center of town.  The library’s clock tower, with its beautiful design elements, still keeps good time.

IMG_2747The North Adams Public Library, shown at left, finds its home in former mansion.  In 1896 the first mayor of North Adams, Albert Houghton, bought the striking brick residence and donated it to the city for use as a public library in memory of his brother; he also donated $10,000 — which was real money in those days — to renovate the building for use as a library.  (Isn’t that the kind of mayor every town really needs?)  With its turrets and towers and chimneys and graceful windows, the library beautifully anchors one end of the North Adams downtown area along with neighboring churches and an art museum.

The Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock, Vermont, pictured below, is a stunning  structure found at one corner of the village green, with a stone marker to the Revolutionary War dead in its front yard.  Built in the 1880s, the library features a pink sandstone facade and an entrance through curved stone arches.  Inside a visitor will find shelving on the first floor and a terrific open and airy reading area on the second floor below the library’s vaulted ceiling.

The histories of these libraries shows that people still care deeply about books and learning; each library has undergone recent renovations and improvements that demonstrate that it remains a valued member of the community.  The beauty and continued vitality of these wonderful libraries says something very positive about their towns.

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The Ritter Public Library

Ohio is blessed with many great libraries.  Most of the small towns in the Buckeye state can boast of a library that has plenty of books, internet terminals, free wi-fi, and helpful, enthusiastic librarians who don’t even shush you.

Many libraries in small-town Ohio are Carnegie libraries, built through the generosity of one of history’s greatest philanthropists.  Others are gems established by people who wanted to honor their parents, friends, or communities.  The Ritter Public Library in Vermilion, Ohio, built through the generosity of  George Ritter, falls into that category.

The Ritter Public Library is housed in a beautiful structure with pink marble pillars and a classical facade.  Inside you will find a spacious, brightly lit place where readers can find new material, browse the internet, or enjoy a quiet moment with a favorite book.  How wonderful to have such a source, and resource, in your community!

In our modern world, philanthropists seem to have moved away from endowing physical structures in favor of creating funds that contribute money to medical research or work to promote justice or environmental interests.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but a place like the Ritter Library shows how bricks-and-mortar charitable gifts can make huge and ongoing contributions to communities.

Vote Yes On Issue 4

In addition to all of the federal and state races on the ballot in November, central Ohio voters will cast their ballots on Issue 4, a 2.8 mill property tax levy to support the Columbus Metropolitan Library system.  I strongly support Issue 4, and I hope Franklin County voters will, too.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library system is exceptional.  It has won national awards for excellence and is devoted to community service.  Its local branch libraries have become fundamental parts of many central Ohio communities.  That is certainly the case in New Albany, where the library branch is one of the cornerstones of the Market Street area and is a hub for meetings of local groups.  It also contributes greatly to the foot traffic that helps the nearby local stores.

Libraries are one of the institutions that help to bring communities together and makes them feel more like, well, communities.  A vote for Issue 4 is a vote for money well spent.

Free And Public — Why Libraries Are Great

Now that we are back home, I want to say “thank you” to the friendly folks at the Leelanau Township Library in Northport, Michigan.

The Leelanau Public Library in Northport, Michigan

When Kish and I were up in Michigan we regularly used the Leelanau library wireless system to access the internet, review e-mail, and keep in touch with the outside world.  The library has four computer terminals as well as a big indoor table where a number of people can plug in their laptops and work.  Even better, the library has created an outdoor seating area where people with laptops can do the same — even when the library itself is closed.  Every day we visited the library it was busy with people using the internet access areas. The internet access areas were incredibly easy to use, open to anyone who appeared with their laptop, and free.

The Leelanau library, though small in size, is a powerful example of how libraries can make nice communities even more attractive.  Kish and I loved the Northport area, and the town’s excellent library was a big part of the reason why.

Library Of The Year

I’ve written before about the Columbus Metropolitan Library, which I think is a terrific library system and a real asset to the community.  Others apparently agree, because the Library Journal has named the Columbus Metropolitan Library the 2010 Library of the Year.  It is a richly deserved honor — and well-timed, too, because an operating levy for the library will be on the ballot in November.  Here’s hoping that the Library of the Year award helps Columbus voters to recognize that our library system is a real jewel and to agree to provide the system with the support it needs to continue its fine work.