On the first Friday of October, I drove to Eugene on a bright autumn afternoon and parked my car in the garage beneath the Eugene Public Library. I had seen it only once before, and this was my day to actually visit and explore the library. As this was First Friday, library hours were extended until eight and special programs were being offered, including live music at five p.m.
At the front of the building, I perused the menu on the chalk board of the Library Cafe. The cafe is a glass enclosed area that gives one the sense of being at a sidewalk cafe, while having the advantage of being protected from the wet, cold Oregon winter.
I stepped outside and crossed the street to stroll through Kesey Square, where buses were arriving and leaving for various destinations. There were plenty of people out enjoying the gorgeous weather. For a while I joined them, taking a short walk to Mom’s Pies, a place I learned about through the blog Food Adventures in Eugene. I stopped in for a wonderful turkey sandwich, made with their own oven-roasted turkey.
My appetite satisfied, I made my way back to the library. The brick and glass exterior of the library combines classic and starkly modern design, but the interior—in its color scheme and elegant, simple lines—is all Art Deco, the design era where I could happily live forever. In the atrium, musicians were settling in with their instruments. I looked upward four floors to the domed skylight, reveling in the beauty of it. As the music began, I walked slowly up the sweep of the curved stairwell to a mellow jazz rendition of It Had To Be You. For a library experience, this was proving to be high up in my top ten list.
On the second floor I walked around the enormous reading room, looking at the woven rug creations on display and gazing out the windows that overlook the city. Then I headed toward the stacks, where a librarian directed me to the area where I could find books on intuition—my current subject of choice. I randomly (intuitively?) selected a book, walked back to the reading room, and settled in with my book.
My book. That is what I love about public libraries, the reason I have a sense of excitement each time I walk into a library. All those books, all those stories, all those worlds to get lost in, all the people—real and imagined—to meet and get to know. And all of it available, accessible, beautifully organized. All there for me. For you. For any one of us.
The Benton County Library in Corvallis, where I live, is smaller than the Eugene Library, but it is equally handsome. The brick building has a spacious and welcoming entryway, a comfortable reading room with windows looking out to Central Park, a public meeting room, special collections and programs for all ages, and an extensive offering of music and DVDs. The presence of this excellent library was one of the main positive factors when I was weighing the decision to move to Corvallis.
Last year I visited the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. It is a veritable palace, full of splendor and beauty, stunning in its design and the execution of that design. It provides a resplendent home for our collective history, knowledge, and cultural diversity.
A great nation deserves a great national library, and the Library of Congress surpasses expectations in the way it fulfills that role. But wherever I have lived, the local library, large or small, has always been an important part of my life.
The branch library in my San Francisco neighborhood was in a big, stone building with huge arched windows. The solidity of the building was comforting, giving one the sense that it had always been there and would always be there. The whole lower floor was dedicated to the Children’s Library and in good weather, the children could easily go out to the playground that had been built there as the entryway to their library.
I also have fond memories of the library in Alameda, a quiet little city across the bay from San Francisco. I especially loved going there in cold weather, because they had an ample number of big leather armchairs in the reading room. It was a great place to while away the hours, lost in a good book.
Libraries always make me feel wealthy. In those movies where the characters live in splendid mansions, people are often told by the butler to please wait in the library. All the mansions seem to have them, whole rooms devoted to books. Our public libraries go one better than the libraries in private estates, because ours are staffed by librarians, those wonderful people who know so much and seem always ready to assist us, whether our search is for knowledge or information or adventure. Our libraries are our mansions, part of our common wealth of books. They are always there for us. All of us. Long may they live.