Bustling Biloxi

The facility's Spanish Colonial style evokes the grandeur of the MS coast's 1920's hotel

The Spanish Colonial style evokes the grandeur of the Mississippi coast’s 1920’s hotels

I entered the magnificent stucco complex that contains the Biloxi Public Library (BPL) through a lovely, partially arched colonnade.  Separated from the Civic Center by a huge brick courtyard strung with fairy lights and sometimes used for balls, I knew from informative introductory emails from Charline Longino, the Head Librarian (since retired, Sharon Davis is now in charge), that the 22,000′ building’s early 20th century design helps ease the pain of losing so much historic architecture during Hurricane Katrina.

She’d also told me that a local film company and dentist had both used BPL in background shots.  Perhaps a not uncommon use for this stunning part of the country as later that day my husband and I stumbled onto another movie set at a sea side restaurant!

Charlie Longino at the Main Desk

Charlie Longino at the Main Desk

It’s warm outside, but it’s still winter, so the two delicate pink camellias floating in a lily pad bowl at the front desk hinting of spring’s imminent arrival are a nice touch as I meet Charlie in person and get an enthusiastic tour of a place she obviously loves.

One of four sites in Biloxi and part of the nine branch Harrison County Library System (HCLS), which, with help from FEMA, has four new buildings to replace those lost to Katrina, BPL holds the Local History and Genealogy Department (LH).

Local History

Archival area

Though unfortunately heavily damaged by the 2005 catastrophe, they are constantly adding materials and the 2500 square feet are packed with movable storage, an old card catalog with cemetery plot data, microfiche and an oversize printer for making posters.  As would be expected from those who watch over realia, it’s draped with collectables: a framed fleur de lis banner from a Krewe, prints of antebellum plantations, a cabinet full of old glass bottles, a vase holding paper flower staffs.  At Carnival processions men in tuxedos holding these sticks exchange them for kisses.

A Christmas tree is decked with the traditional purple, gold and green garlands and they have a plum hued book cart to continue the Mardi Gras theme.  LH has three employees who bring their special knowledge to the masses by partnering with other organizations to give historical lectures.

Including these three workers, BPL has four full time and three part time staff while the system has sixty.

Gorgeous ceilings grace the spacious interior

Glowing wood graces the airy interior

Opened in 2011, this location is the fourth iteration of BPL.  The third was flooded in three feet of water by Katrina and is now a green space, though luck and sturdy bygone construction practices allowed their 1920’s setting to weather the storm.  The original BPL was housed in an 1800’s cottage and around the early 20th century became the first free public library in MS.  It also survived and is still in use by the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation.

An exhibit highlighting the region's sea birds

Nature Photography by Elizabeth Graves

Conveniently situated downtown near a large park and two blocks away from the pristine sands of the Gulf, the city chose and built the structure so HCLS owns the contents but not the shell.  Gorgeous oak slat sound absorbing ceilings and enormous beams gleam above, lit by a wagon wheel chandelier and a clerestory that lets in the sunshine.

This month’s exhibition is an array of shots highlighting the region’s birds.  Another case features a dress and wooden shoes – attire worn by the French settlers (the district has a very mixed ethnicity due to the fishing industry) in the olden days of New Biloxi Colony.  The shoes were perfect for all the mud.  Across the aisle, a display contains Mardi Gras memorabilia from the Hunt family (Kevin was Captain of the Carnival for eleven years) such as a bejeweled scepter and tiara and romantic photographs of sophisticated men in capes and women in floor-sweeping gowns.

Teen spot

Teen spot

The Young Adult Area has bar stools at a counter and along with the adults and juveniles they have manga and graphic novels.

BPL’s classroom allows 10-15 students and is equipped with computers.  The meeting space seats up to fifty and has a digital projector.

Plenty of places to study

Plenty of places to study

Some sections have motion detection lighting that turns on as you walk by.  Tables have plugs and attractive lamps and there are Pacs in the stacks, easy chairs with tray tables and long banquettes for those who always opt for the booth in a restaurant.  Curved paperback spindles look like hanging plants from a distance and the Friends have a permanent book sale room, divided into nonfiction, fiction, DVDs, CDs, magazines and even genealogy.

The facility has 40,000 items and outside there’s a wheelchair ramp and a drive up return slot where the 190,000 or so county residents can drop off materials (and they can borrow from any HCLS locale).

Family circle

Family circle

In the Kid’s Room, light streams in through panes in a corner just right for telling stories while youngsters sit on a rug of the world bordered by adolescents in native costumes clasping hands.

Kid's Area

Children’s

Vibrant shelf ends have holders showcasing face out titles and chains of pastel hearts adorn the portable AV carts.  Tots can work puzzles or plop down on blue bean shaped puffs, lounge on cushy geometric shapes in primary colors or peruse a volume on a wavy bench.  A bulletin board with the Shrove Tuesday festivities’ slogan “Let the Good Times Roll” looms over all and stacks are topped with holiday shaded beads and star wands stuffed into potted plants.  A sign advertises a visit from a southern MS pet therapy group for Sit Stay Read and book audio combos hang off a happy gray insect stand with springy antennae.

Friendly Liz Catalano

Friendly Liz Catalano

I chatted for a bit with Elizabeth Catalano, Children’s (and Young Adult) Librarian who, though too modest to mention it, was recently honored with the Red Rose award  for her efforts educating Biloxi youths.

February programs for tots include a pre-Lenten parade, Valentine’s Day party and Chinese New Year with sheep (since 2015 is the year of these creatures) and BPL offers storytimes and after school programs like Let’s Go Green while other HCLS branches have Tai Chi, yoga and needlework sessions, introduction to software classes, movie nights and AARP tax help.

DVDs

DVDs

There’s wifi, 12 PCs and 20 in house use laptops.  Databases come courtesy of MS’s Magnolia alliance and they have LearningExpress and TumbleBooks, Freading ebooks and are looking into eaudiobooks.

The website has a graphics heavy children’s catalog and the facebook page has promotions for art shows and lots of pictures of happy kids celebrating and reading to pets.

My favorite area is by the magazines where curved upholstered seating with wood dividers looks out onto pretty palms and foliage.

Seating by periodicals

By the periodicals

What a pleasant addition to the community and a great resource for the people of this beautiful stretch of land.

Blissful Biloxi beach

Blissful Biloxi beach

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Sleek Slidell

Slidell swamp

Honey Island swamp

Known for boat tours of its mires and marshes, Slidell, Louisiana lies on the northeastern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, not far from New Orleans.  A friendly town, where colorful fiberglass statues of pelicans, including one painted like Van Gosh’s Starry Night, can be found in unexpected places, the population surged to its current 27,526 when the aerospace industry moved in, but you can still find solitude communing with turtles, alligators, feral pigs and great blue herons under the Spanish moss draped cypress trees of the wetlands.

Dorothy H. Crockett Library

Harold Van Houten’s The Vortex out front

Upon first encounter, one is hard put to find a straight line in the abstract facade of the 22,000′ Dorothy H. Crockett Library (DHC).  The Slidell branch of St. Tammany Parish Library (STPL) is smartly bordered by foliage and shrubs and an enormous steel and stone sculpture.  A ramp with railings inclines up to the tiled, red metal and glass entry where a sandstone bench affords a view through one of the circular cutouts in the outer brick of the structure.

By the entrance

By the entrance

Sliding doors lead to an upholstered seat and bulletin board in the foyer then through security gates to the lobby where well lit volumes behind the glaze of oversize blond oak display cases advertise a silent auction and the book sale and a matching rack holds educational and community brochures.  Over the bubbler “Platypus Police Squad” and “Lunch Lady”, caricatures by illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka, catch the eye.  A nearby hallway accesses the meeting and storytime rooms conveniently located by the changing table equipped toilets.  Both rooms have A/V hookups and the meeting space can be used for free by the community.

The interior of the building is dominated by gleaming dark wood paneling and overhead, slanted slats reach up to the raised ceiling.  By one of the copiers, a cabinet houses dramatic shots from the Slidell Photography Club.

Nancy Little

Nancy

After corresponding via email, it was nice to meet Branch Manager Nancy Little who told me when DHC got new HVAC they did a one million dollar renovation which finished in 2014.  For the six month duration of the project they had a spot in a nearby shopping center.  She also mentioned a small second facility on the south side of town opened shortly before sadly being destroyed by Katrina, but they are hoping to fund a replacement.

Circulation Desk

Main Desk

At the wavy circulation station a helpful clerk gave me a plastic bag with the STPL logo filled with attractive bookmarks that give contact info and teach you to download ebooks, eaudiobooks, Hoopla films, Zinio magazines and Freegal songs as well as a postcard hyping Pronunciator, the language learning module.  Hot titles scrolling across the big screen Overdrive computer encourage users to start downloading onto Kindles and Ipads.

They have pacs in the stacks, a conference room for up to 12 and a Louisiana Documents (they are a partial depository for the state) and Genealogy section.

Reading area by the periodicals

Reading area by the periodicals

The huge magazine section has cushioned chairs and black wire newspaper racks and there’s another lounging spot by the New Books.  Between the tall nonfiction and fiction shelving, tables with outlets line the aisles.

DHC’s collection has about 147,000 items and the system allows a generous four week check out for books and CDs while magazines and DVDs go out for one week.  STPL is financed by mil levy, has a foundation and customers can use any of the twelve locations in the parish (akin to a county).

Jen in Kid's

Jen by the book/audio packs

I ran into Children’s Librarian Jen Martin in Kid’s where the checkout desk was decorated with a Valentine’s Day motif and a pink box and sign urged young patrons to write the reasons why they love DHC on little hearts.  Pretty mottled blue and yellow end panels complement an alphabet rug and a stuffed armadillo looks down on the fray from a shelf top.  A turnstile has flyers about drop in play dates and Library Day and parents sit comfortably on the squishy rainbow hued hassocks and couches, while tots have their own tiny furniture.

Children's Area

Children’s Area

There are two AWE literacy stations and by a picture window looking onto the greenery outside is a long blue and gold bench appropriately inscribed “Secret Garden.”  Bins of puzzles and an abacus keep youngsters occupied and they can attend five weekly storytimes, sketch their own roller coaster or go to crafternoons or storywalks at a local nature center.

DVD's

A plethora of DVD’s

Nearby, leaflets in Lucite containers promote a Japanese folk dance series, Scrabble Night and branch reading groups and a dual purpose stand accommodates face out CDs on top and audio books on the bottom.  SCORE business seminars, software and internet classes, gardening tips, Dungeons and Dragons and exhibitions are just some of the adult programs.

Teen Room

YA space

Glowing circles enclosed by brushed silver illuminate the Teens only area while other overhead lighting form X’s.   A young adult librarian officiates over this cozy corner where black and chrome barstools are reminiscent of ice cream cones and odd shaped tables hold trays of cards with lists recommending “Make Me Laugh”, “Fangs Anyone?”, “Harsh Realities” and “Future Tech” titles.

Go on a blind date with a book

For V Day, make a blind date with a book

YA’s can sprawl in curiously designed armchairs on a fuchsia and cyan carpet reminiscent of Picasso.  Manga and comics are available and tempting offerings for teens include movies, cooking classes, a Lego Competition, a masquerade ball and a volunteer council.

DHC has wifi, 30 computers, scanners and a color copier.  On the STPL web site you can peruse the newsletter or listen to residents’ oral histories or podcasts of Cajun music and favorite poems for children.  The System is on Twitter and Pinterest and has a busy Facebook account where new entries show youths learning French and feature an upcoming opportunity to build newspaper forts.

K-12+ students can get online tutoring from HomeworkLouisiana (which gives assistance in Spanish and Vietnamese too) while adults can get personal help with resumes, applications, cover letters and interview preparation.  A few examples of their many databases are Learning Express for test practice, a hobbies and crafts reference center and TrueFlix and ScienceFlix multimedia curriculum modules.

Carpet savers

Carpet savers :)

After finishing inside, I wandered through the surrounding plot of land.  Near the staff parking out back, a vine covered shelter is mostly used by employees eating lunch.  A park to the right of the building boasts curved concrete seats with a round table on a mud free cement pad and a picnic table under an orange canvas sail-like sunshade.  Trellises support floral growth and a short gravel path meanders through the geometrical shapes of wood framed planters holding lemon thyme and medicinal tea in the culinary and butterfly garden jointly sponsored by the Friends of the Slidell Library and the LA Master Gardeners.

The back of Dorothy H. Crockett Library from its park

The back of DHC

What a boon to the inhabitants of this unique region!

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Incredible Isla

Cancun in the distance from the southwestern side of the isla

The city can be seen from IM’s southwestern coast

Isla Mujeres, just a short ferry ride from Cancun, Mexico is a gorgeous place to live with sparkling warm aquamarine water and amazing beaches of the softest white sand.  A popular day out for tourists and locals, it’s tranquil in the evening when everyone leaves as there are only about 13,000 residents.

La biblioteca

La biblioteca

The island is small – about five miles long and very narrow, so the Biblioteca Pública Municipal 17 de Agosto is conveniently located at the midpoint in Colonia Las Salinas, a nice little village with brightly painted houses.  The library is downtown, by the stadium, tennis court, a magnificent children’s play area and a pretty white bandstand in the center of a decorative brick pavilion.

Librarian's station

Librarian’s desk with Mexican flag

Unfortunately, when we walked down there on the weekend it was closed so I came back a few days later and was warmly welcomed by Hayde and Mercy.

They graciously showed me around this pleasant facility furnished with some interesting old pieces.

Vacationer's donations

Vacationers’ discards

In the Area Infantil, youngsters amuse themselves with toys and kid’s books.  A curtained cabinet in one corner has craft supplies, a CD player and crockery for refreshments.  A bubbler provides clean drinking water and they can shut a door to prevent noise from distracting older patrons.

Donated toys

Donated animals

Colorful piñatas dangle over the miniature furniture and an alphabet chart hangs near the door with a map of the world across from it.

Children's area

Children’s room

The building is shaded by palms and flanked by tropical greenery keeping temps agreeable in the midday heat.  Out back a grassy walled space is perfect for telling stories in the emerald cool under the trees.

Courtyard

Courtyard

They manage to squeeze a lot of titles in, and the shelves of the Colección General are quite full.

Adult area with card catalogin background

Adult tables, stacks, card catalog and suggestion box

And there are even books for non Spanish speakers.

Foreign titles

Foreign titles

The staff gives great service to all customers.

IMG_8672

Hayde on the left and Mercy on the right

What a sweet spot, and so handy for the adjacent school!

IMG_8589

Beautiful new playground across the street

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Handy Hanapepe

Waimea Canyon State Park

Waimea Canyon State Park

On our way to Kauai’s Grand Canyon, a Christmas colored version of the AZ natural wonder, we popped into the Hanapepe Public Library (HPL). This branch of the Hawaii State Public Library System (HSPLS – an entity I covered before in my post on one of Maui’s libraries) is conveniently located just across the main drag from the quaint downtown, where a long creaking and swinging pedestrian bridge gets you across the river.  ‘Ele’ele Elementary School and a park are close by and just up the road is a fascinating industrial area where you’ll find a beach made of small pieces of sea glass.  Beyond the adjacent graveyard, a lava arch and keyhole cave are hidden on the rocky black caterpillar-dotted coastline.

Hanapepe Public Library

Hanapepe Public Library

Other hidden (literary) treasures can be found at HPL, a one story white stucco building surrounded by ginger bushes and palm trees, that’s one of six HSPLS facilities on the island.  Outside, there’s ample parking, a water fountain, a curvy bike rack and on the glossy red concrete floor of the lanai, a fresh air book giveaway is protected from the elements by an overhanging roof.

Once through the wood lattice sliding door, I was greeted by one of their four friendly staffers who introduced me to Karen Ikemoto, the branch manager.

Main Desk

Main Desk

She told me they serve about 10,000 people in Hanapepe and nearby villages.  The building opened in 1950 and has 5,350 square feet, not including the meeting space that was added in 2010.  The collection holds more than 34,000 items.

Music CD spindle

Music CD spindle

Open five days a week, they have wifi, six adult computers (one with a sunny yellow ZoomText large print keyboard for the visually impaired and there’s a touch screen also) and items are barcoded.  HPL loans out a mobile Netbook computer equipped with Microsoft Office for up to three weeks and offers lots of manga, as well as CD’s, DVDs and books (including some Asian titles).

Cheery bulletin board

Cheery bulletin board

Stands hold informational brochures and a colorful notice site announces bestsellers, new features and events.  HPL hosted over eighty programs this year, including such hits as the Honolulu Theatre for Youth’s Peter Rabbit, and answered more than 10,000 reference questions.   Nearly 500 people read over 7,000 books for their Fizz Boom Summer Reading Program, and participants were entertained by a slack key guitarist and a session on Hardware Science.

Knickknacks add contrasting shades to the bright cerulean stacks

Knickknacks add contrasting shades to the bright cerulean stacks

A wheelchair ramp leads to the 2200′ meeting room which accommodates about 60 people and has a 50″ TV purchased by the Friends of the Hanapepe Library whose book sale (buy discarded DVD’s for $1 or kid’s books for 25¢) and crafting efforts help cross things off the library’s wish list.

Cushy bamboo settees

Comfy bamboo settees

Overhead, twirling wood fans assist the air conditioning and complement the diagonal panels in the dark timber ceiling.  Intriguingly fashioned bamboo tables, cushioned chairs and couches invite customers to sit and relax.  At a study table, tennis balls covering the ends of the sharp metal seat legs preserve the carpeting.

Stuffed animals, ceramic figurines, floral arrangements, framed photos and anomalies like lava lamps dominate shelf tops and tots can create art with the stencil machine the Friends donated.

Stencil supplies

Stencil supplies

The multiple slots of the rack attached to the side of the Reference case house flyers with parenting tips and the Teddy Bear Post.  The coin operated copier machine is near the young adult fiction and there are several revolving towers of paperbacks and a New Book spot.

HPL is a busy institution that serves its community well and has a facebook page adorned with a photo of the library and the HSPLS hibiscus logo.

Help station packed w/ paperwork and tchotchkes

Help desk packed w/ paperwork and tchotchkes

Oversize titles and civil service exams share space by cutouts of Winnie the Pooh (and Tigger too).

Beatific boar in Kid's

Beatific boar in Kid’s

The children’s corner lies beneath high curtained windows that encircle the rooms.  Plush toys are everywhere and book/CD combos sit beside suggested reading lists.

Vividly covered kid’s Hawaiiana materials (the adult ones are closer to the entry) are shelved below an educational poster of local flora and fauna (of which the wild pig shown above is the largest – they are hunted in the ravines and gorges of this lush piece of paradise).

Hawaiian text w/ English translation below

Hawaiian text w/ English translation below

As I headed out, I noticed a shelf by the circulation station with recently returned items lets users pick from presumably popular choices – kind of like “Resident Recommendations” rather than “Staff Selections.”

And a strategically placed array of oshibana products affords the Friends a last chance to get you to open your wallet and support this charmingly eclectic little library.

Pressed flowers make beautiful bookmarks and cards

Pressed flowers make beautiful bookmarks and cards

 

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Kicking Back at Kips Bay

Since we were dog free in NYC for the first time ever on the way back from Europe last summer, we were able to hike above Gotham on the wonderful High Line and catch a bird’s eye view from the Roosevelt Island Tramway, both canine incompatible tourist draws.

Returning to the hustle and bustle

Returning to the hustle and bustle

On the walk to the cable car, I took the opportunity to visit another eminent Big Apple attraction – the New York Public Library (NYPL, as if you didn’t know).

Touring the Kips Bay (KB) branch on Third Avenue was much more manageable than the main location on 42nd Street where you could spend days without seeing it all, and they still have the famous feline out front, albeit embossed on the book drop.

Kips Bay Library

Kips Bay Library

The two story structure has an elevator and a plaque out front with three partitions to insert notices of imminent happenings for kids, grownups and newly released movie showings.  Opened in 1972 it’s named in honor of a 1600’s farmer who owned huge tracts in the district.

A rubber mat keeps mud in the foyer and leads to a glossy brick floor by the entryway.  Colorful shopping baskets and a cloth covered table with pamphlets and a box for adult summer reading contest submissions flank the doorway.

Friendly staff greeted me and took time from their busy schedules to secure permission for me to take photos.

New Releases

New releases

A colorful summery scene bordering encouraging slogans and cutout letters announcing their name adorns the Circulation Desk.  Bamboo plants there and over a display of recently acquired DVDs, bestsellers and titles for tots join vibrant paintings and glass covered dioramas with abstract contents in this pretty area.

In the adult section downstairs there are lots of patrons using computers.  A third of all New Yorkers don’t have home internet, so the wifi, twelve laptops, five desktops with word processing, two YA terminals plus three for kids are invaluable to lower income folk and those who want to save a buck.

Large clear black print points to mysteries, large type, urban and science fiction books and high windows over the cases let a green glow filter in from the foliage outside.  Most shelves are uncrowded enough for face out suggestions and customers pick up their own non A/V reserves.

Holds

Holds

Like all branches, KB has assistive software (some have Braille writers or machines that pronounce text too).  You can request ASL translators or close captions for programs and the disabled get a cut rate on fines.

The system has a publishing arm which puts out that wonderful tome, The New York Public Library Desk Reference (I have a passion for trivia so when I was getting my MLS my librarian mother gave me this and I immediately read it cover to cover), and many other classics including ones for kids on mythology, explorers and geography.  There are new titles on Kerouac and the Afghan conflict and they also create a number of digital works – I was fascinated by the scans of old menus though the thought of sweetbreads is kind of disgusting and 60 cents seemed a bit outrageous for lamb’s tongue in 1918.  The historical map collection is quite informative and I enjoyed William Henry Jackson’s old stereoscopic photos and original diary entries.

Upstairs red, white and blue stencils proclaim Welcome to the Teen Zone, which has Manga, adolescent fiction, upholstered seating and promotional posters.  Cushy cherry chairs with attached tables form a ring where youngsters can read or work together.

Great spot for study groups

Great spot for study groups

The system provides young adults with a wide variety of entertainment options – they can explode melons, play board games, design an Anime character, attend beading workshops or offerings such as From Planes to Silly Putty: How Things Work.

KB also has baby lapsits and playtimes, exercise for those 50+ (other locations have yoga and meditation as well), a science club for kids, films for all ages, toddler sessions, Spanish programs, hoarder support groups, book discussions, free art workshops for seniors and classes on how to Skype, online banking, and using the cloud.

Construction paper stars brighten the cinder block especially on top of YA NF where college and SAT prep paperbacks are prominently featured.

Cheery signage

Cheery area

Multihued hand prints on the panes, sunny yellow walls and serviceable furniture let you know you’re in the children’s space where a plush cupped palm lets youths browse technology volumes in comfort.

Corner in Kid's

Corner in Kid’s

A long banner studded with butterflies and the slogan Catch the literacy bug publicizes summer reading and there are sections for media, picture, easy and board books, and fairy tales (as a child growing up in the Village, my mother, a voracious reader, could only borrow two fiction selections but cleverly skirted this limit by also checking out fairy tales since they are considered NF) in the low stacks that allow a clear sight line.

Practical replaceable tiles carpet the storytime room.  Though KB doesn’t have meeting areas, NYPL rents eight incredible venues holding between 44 and 750 people depending on the layout.  Marble and maple trim lavishly appointed halls and soaring atriums perfect for secular weddings and corporate fetes.  The renowned front steps can be even be used as a movie set.

Table for the small set

Table for the smaller users

On one side, sturdy furniture in primary colors is impervious to roughhousing and mesh backed chairs by a two tiered shelf overlook the street below.  Behind audiovisual, a wood panel covers the back and meets the plaster high above the stacks.

NYPL’s facilities are scattered around Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island and include centers for the performing arts and for science, business and industry.  A few are open on Sundays.  ILL is free and chat is available 24/7 through Ask NYPL or you can email questions.  Employees visit nursing homes and homeless shelters and a four person department, not counting the volunteers, is dedicated to reaching prisoners.  On the net, guides for everyone from job seekers to immigrants and business owners highlight sources, links, ESL coaching sessions and free school delivery for educators

The statistics are staggering.  The system dates from 1895 and a number of its 88 sites were built by Carnegie.  At these, along with the four research libraries, they help more than 18 million residents annually.  Columbus’s missive declaring that he’d discovered America and Washington’s farewell speech are some of the prized possessions for perusal among the more them 51,000,000 items.  They have digitized over 800,000 documents and have 755 databases and compilations.  Everyone from infants to the eldest benefits from the astounding 55,000 free events each year.

Long view of Chilren's

Long view of Children’s

Kids have Toddler Hangout, crafts, martial arts, creative writing, Chinese ribbon dancing and they can learn about bionic bodies and squirt gun volcanoes or hear Big Jeff sing.

Older inhabitants can take classes on topics as specific as puppetry, photo editing on tablets, recovering data, belly dancing, public speaking, Windows or Skype for Spanish speakers and making jewelry.  They seem to be a social director for your neighborhood – play Italian card games at Belmont or Mahjong at Riverside, or got to a film and discussion.  Recently a trivia contest with backing music was held at a nightclub and the subject of clothing design inspires symposiums and a Lindy Hop Fashion Show.  On the first Friday of the month they host a party with cocktails where people with something in common (like historically black colleges alumni) can mingle after hours in their galleries.

Ground level

Ground level

The web site’s home page advertises a community oral history project about NY’s neighborhoods and an exhibit of illuminated paint – 3D works from artist Peter Bynum.  The blurbs are intriguing – I immediately wanted to read about impostors and their scams and take the quiz on what kiddie lit character I am (Pippi Longstocking – yay!  I love Astrid Lindgren’s tales).  Listen to podcasts from interviews with creative figures, lectures on the woman of NY or recordings of poetry readings and WWI songs or watch videos of immigrants becoming citizens.  If you become a friend of the library you get 40% off tickets to hear writers like Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) speak at LIVE from the NYPL.  The fall calendar includes George Clinton, Salman Rushdie and Neil Gaiman.  Toni Morrison, Lou Reed and John Waters have appeared previously.  Other events are usually free like those from The Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers where researchers discuss their work.  Past programs have seen John Lithgow conversing with Bill Moyers and lecture topics such as the decline of American institutions and travelling in Siberia.

The online store sells everything from cuff links to baseball caps, and of course I have a lion coffee mug so I was delighted to see the iconic creatures on our way home.

On the way back from our trip across the river, we passed by the flagship building

By the flagship building

It’s easy to understand why this venerable organization is arguably the world’s greatest public library, and Kips Bay is no small part of that.

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Amiable Amsterdam

Conveniently situated next to my hotel and a short jaunt from the busy tourist district and main train hub where everyone seems to wind up, I encountered Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA).

Amsterdam's Pub;lic Library

Amsterdam’s Public Library

An intriguing concrete structure with short open passageways on each floor providing views, its seven flights tower above the metropolis.  This is the central facility so it’s open until ten every night (except for a few holidays) and has eleven levels accommodating its 28,000 square meters (a whopping 301,000 square feet).

OBA has solar panels on the roof and uses renewable elements.  Underneath, free 24 hour covered parking can shelter 2,500 bicycles, the preferred mode of transportation here.  Out front an umbrella shaded café and a sunny plaza offer relaxing places to watch the movement of the cranes and ships at the port.

Ascending into Jorge Luis Borges' heaven?

Ascending into Jorge Luis Borges’ heaven?

Entering via a big revolving door I found a very modern building with gleaming wood floors and sparkling silver elevators.  Escalators are set off by glowing pillars and multicolored light panels on the ground.

Free up to age 19, a variety of memberships are available, from 20 euro to 100, depending on what resources you desire, though even the most inclusive pass charges 1 euro for each AV unit, game or hold placed after the first ten.  Cleverly, the most expensive card includes a yearly donation of an additional 45 euro to support the library.  Though usually materials are borrowed for 21 days and can be renewed twice, in summer patrons can take ten things for six weeks so as not to interfere with a wonderfully long vacation.  They have self check and you can go to any location or items will be sent to your home branch for 50 cents.

Snake lamps draw attention to old tomes in attractive glass displays trimmed in shining pine.  Changing TV screens embedded in the sides of these variously shaped pieces catch the eye.

Platforms and walkways encourage close inspection

Platforms and walkways encourage close inspection

Other exhibitions reveal dolls in mountainous black dresses from a young fashion designer, photographs of kisses taken all over the planet, miniature handmade books and innovative cooking implements.

The teen area on the second floor has video games, comic books, audiotapes and CDs, but Children’s is at the bottom and is overlooked by higher balconies and corridors strewn with paintings.  Lit by radiant abstract mobiles, phantasmagorical paper mache creatures watch over the round stacks.

Venturing into the youth area

Venturing into the youth section

A see through storytime room is brightened by a multihued vine creeping around its white walls.  Two tiers of cushions face a grand chair obviously meant for the tale teller.

The Kinderlab, where classes are brought, has rolling silver stools stowed under a transparent ledge hosting juvenile artwork and a red secretary in a corner houses a listening station.  One side of the space holds a long, recessed glass-fronted cabinet presenting a colorful array of suggestions.

A nook papered with Jip en Janneke (a popular Dutch series) cover illustrations has scarlet pillows and vats for books. From here, steps lead up to a raised stage with illuminated pamphlets and titles on parenting and at the other end, a huge polar bear gives Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too, a ride on his back.

An uncomplaining ursine gives his pals a ride

An uncomplaining ursine gives his pals a lift

Nearby, adults can stroll through a small exhibition then gossip at a booth or sink into fat red sculptured forms surrounded by ubiquitous marshmallow blobs perfect for diminutive behinds.  I like the idea of a youth area striving to please both guardians and their charges.

Parents can relax in comfort as their offspring enjoy the offerings

Parents can relax in comfort as offspring enjoy the offerings

Chinese dragon kites and drawings from a classic picture book about a crocodile deck the walls.  A teepee inspires play and a wavy oversize cubby hole decorated with tree branches and Janneke crawling in invite the smallest to explore this dark cave.

I was mesmerized by this marvelous mouse mansion.  With more than 100 recesses stuffed with tiny old fashioned furniture, it attracts all ages – my favorite scene is a messy study so chock full of volumes a ladder is needed to reach many of them.

You can spend hours gazing at this amazing assemblage

You can spend hours gazing at this amazing assemblage

Recommended books are arranged face out on a Smart Car facsimile and spine out in a container that evokes a tall Amsterdam dwelling.

The shelves here form numerous alcoves, each with its own theme.  In the biggest one, a red and white circular metal staircase leads up to an overlook – big people are discouraged by steps made for petite feet.  In a second, a teal ring envelops a big black puff and you can push a matching ottoman over if you want to use one of the workstations.

Interior of one of the stacks

Interior of one of the stacks

OBA has twenty five branches not counting an outpost at the airport that we stumbled upon on our way to South Africa last year.   Other ingenious sites include a tram depot and a gigantic church.

Some of the locations have features like courtyards or specialize e.g. one focuses on information on Suriname and the Antilles, has a three hour tech skills clinic on Fridays and an infants and toddlers collection.  Another concentrates on youth and has software to help with elementary school courses while a third has 25,000 graphic novels.  Buitenveldertbaan has a computer for those with reading challenges.

Margie, Medewerker informatiedienstverlening

Margie, Medewerker informatiedienstverlening

Over in Periodicals I talked to cheery and helpful Margie, whose title translates as information services employee.  She told me that she went to library school, which is usually two years, and that everyone who works here must have a library certificate.

The building has two radio studios they rent for long periods that provide income, as do the leases for the café outside and the terraced restaurant and the 260 person theater on the seventh story.  Audiences are welcome at the live broadcasts from the first and fourth levels – OBA airs a daily interview and Public Amsterdam FM covers culture.  The penthouse auditorium is currently staging a musical version of Stephen King’s Misery and a play derived from the kid’s book The Gruffalo.

So many options

So many options

I took a winding set of stairs up to an enormous media area where customers flip through racks loaded with audiovisual materials and scan curvy partitions full of films near clusters of shimmering tubes sticking straight up from the tiles.

Users can choose from 500,000 CDs, 300,000 LPs and 30,000 music DVDs owned by OBA.  Online, use MuziekwebLuister to pick from six million free music tracks and find info about your favorite genres and groups.  A separate room being constructed where you can watch videos should be ready by now and under a wall adorned with gold textured strips, an upright piano stands ready to entertain.

Friendly Riet

Friendly Riet

Though I didn’t get the names of all the staff who answered my many questions, they have my profuse thanks.  Everyone seemed to speak English fluently – Riet and I chatted for a bit and she was so nice.

OBA acts as a depository for EU documents and has dedicated references spaces devoted to Amsterdam, libraries of the world, gay literature, the piano, sheet music and Hispanic youth.  Tell the Wall has oral histories and tales of the city.

Residents who can’t make the journey in can get home deliveries and the library charges 7.5 euro per hour for tutoring in primary school subjects.  There are poetry contests, literary festivals, political forums in advance of elections, guest authors, weekly movies, reading clubs and you can volunteer to help seniors learn about their tablets and laptops.  Recently they gathered landscaping professionals to advise on garden construction and held a workshop to help freelancers increase their business.

In the multimedia section, a display of album covers and a pink neon sign direct you to a stand up terminal with speakers.  People perch on cubes of piled 33 rpm recordings at other computers with headphones and chrome keyboards or on high chairs at angled Apples resembling cyborgs.

Kiosk puts you in a lyrical mood

Kiosk puts you in a lyrical mood

The library has five conference spaces for rent and study rooms.  The Gerard Reve Museum on the second floor honors one of the country’s most famous authors and has manuscripts, first editions, personal possessions and even relics like a wisdom tooth and fingernails.

Five thousand people come daily and Centraal has had well over ten million visitors since it opened in 2007.  The system has at least 700 PCs and 200 iMacs and travelers can use wifi or search the internet on one of the 490 terminals here for one euro per half hour.  Outlets for powering your devices are everywhere and a computer area is festooned with abstract art.

Foreign language items come in Arabic, Russian, Persian, Portuguese, Spanish, Urdu, Turkish and Frisian (one of my brother’s favorite sayings about that obscure language is Es hat eigenskip das de Fryske bydrage ta da Americanske literateur ta bienske is. (this may not be a totally accurate spelling…) which means “It stands to reason that the Frisian contribution to American literature is a modest one.” ;)

Watch the boats sailing by

Watch the boats sail by

The cream cases in fiction are bordered by orange (the color of their royal family) and white fairy lights.  Large letters announce categories and end caps hold tastefully positioned volumes enclosed by glass.  By the English books, boxes showcase vibrant jewelry assortments and square cushioned benches afford city vistas.

Lots of pleasant distractions

Lots of pleasant distractions

OBA’s web site links to a Twitter feed and gives you the chance to win prizes if you agree to answer quarterly surveys to improve services.  Pages highlight energy, sustainability, music, cuisine, religion, design and the heritage of Brabantish speakers and there’s a selection of 5000 downloadable ebooks and eaudiobooks.  Databases cover a wide range of topics from data for immigrants, language learning and grants to Dutch journals and tutorials on basic skills and browsing.   Creative sessions to develop children’s imaginations, summer reading suggestions and tips on how to avoid web bullying and harassment are here as well, and other links let you know about events in the region.

Local canal

Local canal

As this wonderful and monumental place confirms, Nederlanders obviously know how important libraries are to their communities.

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Brilliant Brugge

A few train stops after Poland, we found ourselves in Brugge where just a short walk from my hotel through an alleyway…

europe 2014 1955

Passage from our B and B to the library

…I encountered a parking garage serving a smart brick and dark glass and metal edifice.   Parked on the cobblestones close by, a small van with the slogan “de Bibliotheek komt naar je toe” (The library comes to you!), indicated I’d found the right place, which a stylish mint and coral sign emblazoned on the rear door confirmed.

Hoofdbibliotheek Biekorf (HB) is the main library for the city, but there are twelve branches, not including a seasonal location in a cabana at the beach!

Helpful staffers made me feel welcome

Friendly staffers gave assistance

Under a sign declaring onthaal (welcome!), I found the main help desk where I chatted with three employees who spoke fluent English.  They told me that people switch around and work at different stations, and that you must have a library certificate to work here.  It takes one year to get after finishing a three year university course, and some professionals also go on and get higher degrees in librarianship.

The structure has two stories and was built in 1986 then renovated around 2009-10.  It’s a roomy place with a funky flair evident in the grape floor and overhead banners and contoured concrete ceiling.

Cushy seating by the comics

Near a display on vampiers – just can’t get away from them these days ;) – select an item from the bins of graphic novels then lounge in fashion on ebony and violet armchair cubes under a gilded chrome and CFL diagonal light fixture.

By the front entry, a clear Lucite newspaper rack lets you see the entire front page and magazines are featured in an intriguing cream tinted hard plastic blob – a style also seen in the framework enclosing the Pacs, checkout stations and the informational brochures.

Magazines by the front entry

Magazines by the front entry

Perch on black and white bar stools at high tables to sip drinks chosen from a well used coffee machine or settle onto fuchsia hassocks at the big screen computers.  Stand alone lamps providing ambient lighting for all the little reading nooks scattered about.

An independent store selling new books right off the lobby catches the impatient who came for a title that was out.

At the back lies a pretty courtyard where the “Cultuurcafé” occupies a typical Belgian construction.  A statue amidst verdant foliage and curved metal seats lends this patio the air of a sculpture garden.

A lovely sanctuary for a sunny day

A lovely sanctuary for a sunny day

Inside, a convenient chartreuse toned corner allows users to make cell phone calls away from inclement weather and other patrons and an exhibit of one week “sprinters” showcases hot offerings.

The low tiered red legged cases in the huge music and movie section let materials stand face out for easy browsing.

Media galore!

Media galore!

Triangular towers with slots for returns are sandwiched between the shelves where you pick up your own reserves (which cost one euro each to place).  Internet PCs are free to members (17 and under don’t pay, but it’s five euro for one year for those 18-65 and 3.75 euro for seniors) and some have word processing.  There’s a borrowing limit of eight things with a four week checkout and customers must return materials to the same library.

Besides home delivery for the infirm, HB has daisy books – audio CD Roms played on special machines that can be adjusted to accommodate physical and mental challenges – as well as large print and Braille titles.  Online you’ll find tips on how to choose appropriate items for your learning preference.

Rooting for Belgium!

Rooting for Belgium!

A solid wood staircase leads to the second level and the Children’s Department where, when I visited in July, I was greeted by a facsimile of the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer that overlooks Rio hovering above a World Cup display with relevant titles, trophies, competitor’s flags, an empty wine bottle and soccer ball decals next to an easel with an up to date scoreboard.

Children's Desk

Children’s Desk

Teens to age 14 and children can use the computers and books are in French and English, and Flemish, of course.  Stuffed animals abound and there are mini checkout terminals and sheets of brainteasers for kids below a swarm of cheery bumblebees.    Glowing bunnies are scattered about, and plush versions sit next to backpacks called snippertas containing selections of reading materials about animals, sleeping, sports, going on vacation… that cover issues and interests for tots up to age six.

View from the upper level

View from the upper level

And the vista of medieval rooftops and spires from the windows reminds tech obsessed youngsters not to forsake their formidable cultural heritage.

I asked Sophie from Children’s about a carved wooden piece similar to what I’d thought was a puppet theatre when I visited Fukagawa Library in Japan and she gamely demonstrated Kamishibai, literally “paper drama” for me.

Sophie demonstrating Kamishibai

Sophie with the Kamishibai contraption

HB makes a point of accommodating teachers – they can borrow extra items with longer lending periods and bring classes in for visits and events such as Literature of World War I and Book Tasting.  Third grade classes get to interact with visiting robots.

I like their idea of storytimes using children as storytellers and the session on ancient documents that lets kids test their skills with quills and become familiar with parchments, pigments and gold leaf.

Great spot for kids

Great spot for kids

The room is brightly painted with low tables.  Lime and cyan elephant stools and wavy chairs providing ample seating are surrounded by board book bins on wheels while floor to ceiling glass panes lets natural rays in.  A spacious storytime area has colorful oversize cushions and beanbags stacked against one wall while a retractable partition that keeps noise contained is folded into another.

I was taken by the vivid decor of HB.  Over in the adult part, there are curved midnight and pink benches and matching geometric forms show off newly acquired films near lockers for personal possessions.  A black rug with plum tinted streaks echoes the shades of purple found throughout the building.  I kept discovering unique touches – under a label stating “zonder inspanning zoeken” (effortlessly search), a color coded chart lists subject divisions and they created an outlook onto the cloister from a toasty window seat above an interesting looking radiator.

Warm bench with a view to inner plaza

Warm bench with a view to inner plaza

Along with DVDs, audiobooks and CDs, the library has manga, graphic novels, some older video games, anime, a local history collection and English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese volumes on the international shelves.  A pilot project that had been going on for two months is introducing ebooks.  Databases include historical archives, foreign newspapers and literary reviews for all ages.

HB has an elevator, selfcheck and free wifi.  From the web page you can make purchase suggestions, arrange for a guided tour, propose a program you’ll lead on your personal passion, read library news or link to the Twitter account.   Program topics include making jewelry from recyclables and finding out about sustainable foods or creating a climate neutral city.  You can attend photo exhibits, author interviews and a Flemish fish celebration!

The facebook page has pictures of patrons at the seaside kiosk and retiring employees. There are promotions for poetry nights and guided walks around the city.  Solicitations for volunteers to supervise kids’ book discussions and reminders that they now have ebooks pop up here too.

Note the subject plaques on the end panels

Note the subject plaques on the end panels

Frosted plastic end caps join cherry colored frames and blond planks to form the stacks and pictures on the ends show what’s there, e.g. the ouders kinderen (parents, children) icon has a small figure watched over by a larger one and onderwijs (education) shows a child carrying a school valise.  Photography uses a camera and the familiar comic/tragic mask indicates theatre.  Ingeniously, craft periodicals are housed by the craft volumes and sport DVDs by the sports tomes.

Smiling Sabine at your service

Smiling Sabine at your service

Up here in nonfiction, I got a chance to meet Sabine, who was very helpful.  She works in cataloging and one of the smallest branches in the system as well.

Truly the bibliotheek is an enormous asset for this enchanting region.

A nearby square looks like it's from a fairytale

A nearby square looks like it’s from a fairytale

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