Harmonious Hanoi

Like Lao, I couldn’t get a reply from any libraries in Vietnam despite repeated attempts via translated email.  Just in case, I contacted the US Embassy.  Though the American Center in Ho Chi Minh City was closed for renovations during our stay the smaller one in Hanoi was open.

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The lake has an island pagoda and a curved scarlet bridge leading to a temple

But I really wanted to visit a Vietnamese public establishment so we headed to the far end of Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, an attractive park by the famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theater (a unique treat as we discovered later that day), then a couple of blocks down to Thư viện Hà Nội or Hanoi Library (HL).

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The facade is meant to evoke an open book

In the cafe at the bottom of the building, a waiter confirmed HL’s presence and pointed to a short flight of stairs by the cash register that led to its lobby and an alcove where cards are issued.  After ascending to the main sections, I was delighted to find a few English speakers (any mistakes are due to my misinterpretations) and get permission to take photographs.

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The Children’s Area has long tables and multihued furniture fashioned in various geometric shapes that let youngsters spread out to do school work or read quietly.  Kids’ paintings and dangling mobiles add color to the white walls and pristine tile floors.

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Cute board books

Pale pink curtains soften the streams of bright sunlight shining on the Dragon Ball Z series and other manga near a glassed in storage space.  Next to a rack of face out comics, a banner offers a quote from Günter Grass.

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Youth Librarian Thů

Out in the hallway, I notice a stunning antique card catalog and by a potted plant, a large white cupboard features recommendations.  Floor to ceiling windows afford great views of the wide tree lined avenues common in this neighborhood.  These pleasant foyers occur on each level and have plenty of seating.  The breezy openings supplement the air conditioning and fans found in some of the rooms.

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Stacks of teacups await audiences in a performance venue outfitted in the latest audio visual equipment.  The red velvet backdrop and chairs are appropriate – a hammer and sickle adorns the left side of the stage above a bust of “Uncle Ho” on a pedestal.

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The room manager – bins for patron statistics are on right

The library started as the People’s Reading Room in 1956 and moved here in 1959.  The current nine story location opened in August 2008 and is 6178 square meters (66,500 square feet).  One area has foreign languages and another is for visually challenged customers and there’s even a studio that produce volumes for the blind.

HL puts on exhibitions, seminars and book talks.  On the web site you’ll see news of holiday celebrations, seminars, workshops and conferences they’ve hosted.  Other programs bring in musicians to teach students, or coordinate for joint sessions with poetry clubs.  User studies and lists of recent acquisitions are available too.

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Diligent scholars

Homey touches are everywhere.  New titles are displayed on a pretty cloth covered surface and a bunch of flowers in a little wicker basket sits atop bundles of paper beneath framed calligraphy prints.

While browsing I realize they don’t use the same Dewey classification as us as travel materials are in the 300’s.

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Some books are arranged spine up so you don’t have to bend

The citizens of this country are incredibly polite and sincere and truly seem interested in communicating and sharing experiences with tourists.  The HL personnel I spoke to were no exception and we chatted about my blog and what membership entailed.

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Thủy, me, Vân and Trang

Vân had excellent English skills and was very helpful.  She told me adults paid 42,000 dong for reading privileges and if you want to take items home it’s 142,000 dong (around six dollars) for the first year and 42,000 in subsequent years.  If you decide to give up your card (heaven forbid) and have a good record, you’ll be refunded 100,000 dong.  For under 18’s, it’s just 72,000 initially.  Thủy (her name means water) manages Floor Three (borrowing), Four (reading), and Five, which houses a huge collection of magazines and newspapers on towering shelves.

Unfortunately, our chat was cut short as most of the library closes for lunch at 11:45am so I missed the media room containing historical movies on Hanoi (their only DVDs).  I thought they said it reopens at 1:30 but perhaps I misunderstood as that’s a very generous break!  However, meals are a social occasion here – the sidewalks are often impassable due to groups of diners perched on tiny plastic stools enjoying the food and the company of friends and coworkers and HL has a big space set aside for eating.

The facility has wifi and ninety three workstations with software and internet and I managed to squeeze in a quick picture of the computer zone before I had to leave.

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HL aims to create a “life-long learning society” and in aid of that goal, networks through the colorfully named Red River Delta Library Association with 29 district and 107 commune-level organizations as well as 1,138 “libraries” (some are simply bookcases) in residential clusters and villages.  Hanoi Library has won a place in the hearts of the population and been awarded numerous medals recognizing its worth, culturally, politically and economically.  Besides advising the People’s Committee and the Department of Culture and Sports of Hanoi, their umbrella agency, responsibilities include stepping up electronic access, digitization, assisting in the effort to improve services regionally and nationally, and professional development at HL and for employees at all Vietnamese institutions.  Quite an important challenge but I’m sure they will meet it with alacrity.

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Hồ Trúc Bạch in the northern part of this fascinating city

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Looking for a Lao Library

Or Laos if you prefer, but the embassy’s page has the nicer sounding and more accurate spelling – as in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, its official name.  It was once the three kingdoms of Lao; Vientiane, the modern capital, was one of the trio.

Unearthing public libraries here, as in much of Southeast Asia, was quite difficult and depended greatly on serendipity.  I couldn’t find a website or any details, and my multiple Google translated emails to the National Library and National University Library went unanswered.  I finally chanced upon an organization based in touristy Luang Prabang, seven hours from Vientiane, where they had opened a branch in 2003 at Wat SokPaLuang.  The group had turned the Vientiane location over to locals and had no contact for them, but since our hotel’s concierge couldn’t reach anyone at the phone number for the (possibly closed for renovation) national institution, we set off for Wat SokPaLuang, a 20 minute taxi ride away.

Unfortunately, at the temple and high school complex, no one knew anything about a library…

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Grrrrr!!!  You aren’t wearing orange

…and I was closely followed by some canines that only respected monks, so after a half hour of tempting the rabies gods, I abandoned my quest.

Though disappointed that, like Thailand, I wouldn’t be able to blog about service in the country, I was resigned as we set off for Patuxai Arch in the city center.  Imagine my delight when just before we reached the Arc de Triomphe style war memorial, we stumbled upon…

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…Public Library Vientiane Capital (PLVC)!

Conveniently next door to Lycée de Vientiane, its courtyard is full of foliage.  As I walked along the brick path, I caught the sweet scent of frangipanis among the ferns and palms.  The covered entry shades a long bench and keeps shoes and the bike rack dry during the rainy season.

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Miss Sevong Xay Mo spoke a bit of English

Inside, thankfully, one librarian had enough English to give permission to take photos and assure me this is the only public facility in the region.  She also said that while they don’t have wifi or computers, people can take books home (yay!).

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For statistics

I love where you put your chit as you enter.  Categories include Staff, Monk, and People (so what are staff and monks? 😉 ).

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Welcoming employees at the circulation desk

PLVC is one large airy room with a few nooks set aside for specific purposes.  Potted plants are scattered about and subject signs in Lao and English hover above lovely wood stacks and sleek, easy to clean tiles.

IMG_1714By a grandfather clock, a donation box has lots of kip, their currency, and even more dollars and will allow them to expand the collection.

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New items and daily papers

Periodicals on short shelves form a border for a conference area. On the other side of the space, pamphlets and brochures in tall pine cases offer important information to the community.

IMG_1731You would think the millions of unexploded land mines left over from nearly 600,000 US bombing missions during the Vietnam War are enough of a burden for any country, but Laotians of both genders who migrate to neighboring Thailand are frequently subjected to sex and/or labor servitude.

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In the Children’s section, some of the beautiful mahogany tables are cut into animal shapes.  Plastic chairs are stacked by one that looks like the Twitter logo.  Low magazine racks display paperbacks in Japanese, Chinese, French and English as well as the native tongue.  I was amused to see Contemplating Your Bellybutton, a totally appropriate title considering the preponderance of Buddhists.

Bright multicolored lockers prevent kids from losing track of belongings.

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Poster boards presenting snaps of visitors and lots of happy young faces enjoying activities and books dot the walls.  Laotian students under 18 wear uniforms, and shots of PLVC’s reading promotion and outreach excursions are a sea of white midi blouses and pale blue ties.

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Storytimes are held each day they are open in this wonderful alcove where a gleaming carved teak case holds gigantic picture books.

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One of the most eye catching Dewey charts I’ve seen

Despite Lao’s abundant natural resources, its infrastructure is sorely lacking.  Fifteen percent of youths don’t get any formal education and a quarter of the population is illiterate, so the library plays a vital role in creating an informed populace that is able to improve their circumstances and protect the land from damaging environmental exploitation.

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From the monument, PLVC is just after the crane on the left

 

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Serene Spot by Angkor Wat

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The titular locale of the massive UNESCO World Heritage Site

I tried to find a public library near Siem Reap, Cambodia, but after a lot of searching, the most substantive information seemed to be from the Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient who wrote me that “public libraries are only available…in the capital…”  Luckily, though it’s actually an NGO, the Center for Khmer Studies provides this essential service at Wat Damnak, a temple complex not far from my hotel.

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Fits Gabriel García Márquez’s vision of paradise as “…a kind of library.”

In our email exchange, Oum Daraneth, CKS Library‘s (CKSL) Head Librarian, confirmed the lack of institutions and she and Zach Nader from the New York branch graciously allowed me to take photographs.

Set on the gorgeous and blessedly shady (it’s very hot and humid here) grounds of a Buddhist monastery and spread over several buildings, CKSL has more than 20,000 items.  The wide gravel path leading to the facility is bordered by scooters and motorbikes, Bermuda grass and fragrant frangipani trees.  A short wooden stairway outside is littered with pairs of shoes which are removed before entering.

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Monks and kids alike enjoy CKSL

Though only closed on Sunday, it’s always busy and well used by a diverse population from erudite researchers to elementary school age.  The collection has Khmer, English, and French items, out of print periodicals and tomes, plus dissertations and theses from CKS fellows and Cambodians studying abroad.

Doors are wide open to catch every breeze and cats wander in and out.

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Founded by an international consortium of universities, organizations, individuals and scholars, CKS started gathering materials on the country and region’s history and opened, free of charge to all, in 2001.

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Chhor Sivleng, Research Librarian

At the desk I met Sivleng (first names come last here), the other CKS trained Cambodian employee.  Her English was excellent and she was so hospitable and friendly as she gave me a tour.  She and Daraneth manage the collection with an assistant.

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In the Reading Room, an elegant donation box on spindly leg stands by a huge nature themed mural covering one wall.  A surface contains a mini booksale and long two sided tables conveniently sport electrical plugs and a row of double reading lamps.

As well as books, the library offers maps, daily newspapers, internet access, free wifi and DVDs and CDs about the society and culture.  Daraneth wrote me that anyone can come and browse, but only those with member cards can take things outside to read on the terrace.

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Shrine to some of those who made this place possible

Since there is an academic intent, CKSL has JSTOR access for Senior Fellows and is the first in Southeast Asia to be elected a member of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers.  A joint ILL agreement with the resource development library in Phnom Penh increases the scope of what’s available and CKS is looking for additional complementary partnerships.

A performing arts media station features images, audios and videos of traditional music and dance.

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One of three public PCs

The history of the Khmer Rouge is loaded on five tablets from Bophana.

CKS is an important resource for Cambodians interested in both past and future.  Its journal, In Focus, publishes scholarly articles and they host a number of programs that will benefit the people and nation as they modernize.  The Siem Reap location is the headquarters so adults can go to talks, films and documentaries in a red and white conference hall on the premises.

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Fresh air meeting area

When the Center hosted a private screening of First, They Killed My Father, the ensuing discussion was led by producer Rithy Panh while in the library, casualties of the Khmer Rouge discussed their horrid ordeals with director, producer and writer, Angelina Jolie.

CKSL promotes librarianship and has held professionally taught workshops attended by librarians from all over the land. Even the legendary Nancy Pearl came to speak about reading advocacy.  And CKS believes in continuing education: Daraneth spent time at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, training on WorldCat and helping correct entries and romanize Khmer.  She has also learned about metadata, conservation and other elements of bibliographic systems at Cornell.

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The library has a lovely little children’s section to “encourage them to read, both English and Khmer.”  Sometimes a volunteer will tell stories or give an art session and they invite kids from the primary school next door as Daraneth aids in translation.

I spy titles from the Clifford the Big Red Dog series and other familiar paperbacks amidst the ones in the native tongue…

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Pretty script

…and some teaching proficiency in two languages.  CKS’s librarians also give users courses on library use and welcome visitors.

Colorful mobiles dangle from the ceiling and cheerful artwork decks the walls.  Youngsters can plop on pads and mats keep their clothes clean.

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As we head across the lawn to the second building, I notice a wheelchair ramp, still unusual in this part of the globe.

CKSL quickly outgrew its original premises, and thanks to the generous Board of Trustees, in 2010, their Royal Patron, Norodom Sihamoni, King of Cambodia, inaugurated the newly constructed annex where fragile texts are preserved under dust screens on aerated shelves protected from damaging sunlight.  On this festive day, His Majesty also presented CKS with unique archival records from the reign of his father, King Sihanouk, an excellent Khmer dictionary and a munificent financial contribution.

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The Nancy N. Lassalle Librarians’ Office, named for a vital donor who provides most of the annual funding, shares space with ancient volumes of Indochina history and antique issues of The Mekong Times and Le Figaro.

Large cases have thin, oversize drawers holding precious old maps and a sign wisely requests books be left on the cart (instead of misplaced in the stacks 😉 ).

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At the far end of the structure, I mounted steep steps to the catwalk for an impressive view.

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As in Gulf of!

Many residents just come here to relax as the tree strewn campus is an oasis from the heat, and nowhere more so than on the library’s verandas.  Next to potted ferns, students curl up in wicker chairs by inset ledges, which, along with a bench on the outer side serve as al fresco desks.  Sitting cross legged on the cool tiles, gaze at the water below as you reflect on what you’ve learned.

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Peaceful porch pool

What a wonderful setting for a library that is desperately needed and an obvious asset to this famous metropolis.  How astute of the Center to identify and champion the one establishment that can make the greatest difference.  With CKS and CKSL’s help, I believe the future will bring substantially expanded public service to Cambodia.

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Titanic Taipei

Wow!  Taipei Public Library’s (TPL) main location is one of the tallest public facilities I’ve encountered.

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Next to lovely and vast Da’an Park, the eleven story building has thirteen floors not including subterranean parking.  A wheelchair ramp leads to a tree ringed tile plaza.

By the front doors, a vending machine gives anytime access.

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Cool mosaic above FastBook

Taipei is the capital of Taiwan, a hilly island nation, slightly larger than Maryland, sandwiched between the East and South China Seas.  It has almost 24 million people and is a key player in the global economy, ranking high in education, skilled workforce, and national health care.

I entered through security gates and found a nice display of new materials.

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Convenient hassocks for browsers

Public libraries were established in the city in the thirties, but started to receive more support in the sixties and seventies.  Funding and new construction increased and this structure opened in 1990.  Additionally, TPL has 44 branches, 12 neighborhood reading rooms, seven intelligent libraries, and nine automatic 24/7 stops.  Participation in an international book exchange boosts the already substantial assortment of items from different countries (or, ILL stuff from around the world) and they publish a scholarly bulletin.

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Circulation

The two white units on the far right end of the desk above are one example of several types of self checks.   At another, near the ebook kiosk, an overhead TV presents helpful data as do four sleek panels of pamphlets and brochures by suggestion and ultraviolet sterilization boxes.  They also provide three land line phones, an explanatory chart for the recycling bins (a terrific idea), and hot/cold/warm purified water dispensers.

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An iPad on a stand controls printing for the 34 public computers here, which can’t be used for games, pornography, gambling, or surfing violent, unethical, criminal or weapons pages.  While there’s wifi, laptops and tablets are prohibited in certain areas.  Quiet voices are expected and eating and drinking aren’t allowed.

From what I can gather, membership is free to residents, and loan restrictions are 15 items and 30 days for books and in A/V, borrow five over two weeks.   You can place five reserves and renew from home.  The visually disabled and learning challenged have further privileges.

TPL has volunteers and, for those over the age of 55, three dedicated spaces for reading, recreation and learning with chess sets, fitness equipment and regular courses to “help our elders improve their spiritual and cultural well being.”

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Opulent stairs

Giant colorful maps and a mounted poster illustrating where books can take your imagination adorn the steps between the two lowest, mostly juvenile levels.

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Children’s

A fully equipped lecture and performance venue for 380, the breastfeeding sanctuary, a gallery and a study room with gleaming surfaces are down here too.

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One concourse sports a Christmas tree made of heavy volumes and cushioned burgundy seating surrounding square pillars of gray brick.

Various vitrines feature popups, transformer style toys, a pencil porcupine and paper people.  Racks inside Kid’s highlight anime and Disney characters and new items.

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Souvenirs from public libraries overseas

In a foyer, long wavy two tier ledges flank the panes giving onto a colossal courtyard of grass and AstroTurf.  Umbrellas shade the slatted teak and wrought iron furniture and active youngsters expend excess energy climbing on boulders and a plaster bovine.  What a great fresh air locale for storytelling!

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Birds and painted peaks decorate this pod

Near a case of enormous picture books, “Small World” has sections for family and BOOKSTART reading, award winners, movies, music, comics, graphic novels and hanging plastic sleeves of paperback/CD combination packs.  Just below the ceiling, happy, shiny inflatable musical notes, insects, fish and asters frolic and windows bring natural light onto six children’s computers and green plants.  End panels have seats and idyllic scenes cover the walls.

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American Literature is separate from English (and Japanese, German, French and Russian).  In a recreation spot visible through glass dotted with multihued construction paper snowflakes, I see a tepee, crafts, a fold up mat and a big screen.  Dancing bears, penguins and pigs prance in back of a white board and outside, upholstered wrap around cubbies let parents wait in comfort and kids keep it clean by removing and stowing their shoes.

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Most Taiwanese speak Mandarin so I gleaned what I could from the English version of the website and observation (plus some signs are duplicated in the Roman alphabet), but I couldn’t really ask questions, so I apologize in advance for any mistakes.  For example, with all the marvelous enclosures, there must be lots of programs and events, but on the (admittedly beta) English page, nothing was mentioned (though the “Activities” link existed, but was blank).

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Nature theme continues in Teen

A cutout castlescape transforms a raised platform into a theater backdrop and beautiful oak shelving houses numerous offerings.

All under 18’s have attractions on both floors.

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Second set of Youth PCs

Stuffed animals crowd a check out desk and the silhouettes of tiny chairs are carved into mouse ears, antlers and cow horns…  Cloth poofs of cheerful suns and baby blue and pink clouds keep them warm until toddlers come in.

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Getting a bit confused about what was where, I took an elevator to Eleven and emerging from its silvery interior was awed by wonderful views of the municipality and Taiwan’s towering ranges.

A hands-on demonstration area for seniors as well as two training facilities, both in use, also occupied the top story and Ten had closed archives, a meeting room and a conference hall.

Since I couldn’t understand the omnipresent signage and the library has multiple flights of stairs, I easily got lost going through a blur of levels.  Most floors seemed to have balconies, often open to catch a gentle breeze.  On one, hoses and a drain let staff irrigate gardens of potted bushes.

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Eye catching design on Eight

Nine has a PC lab and the Multicultural Information Center, with sections for “Pilipinas”, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam…  carrying dictionaries, magazines, encyclopedias and easy readers in those tongues.  Wicker armchairs, elaborate flower arrangements in waist high planters and a terrace create a welcoming and pleasant ambiance.

Eight is Audiovisual and loaded with technology.

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I counted at least 31 iPads and 18 media stations and saw spaces for video on demand, family viewing, music appreciation and a massive CD selection.

IMG_1384Fantastical furnishings complement the illuminated branches radiating from a pillar in the middle.  Another is reminiscent of Paris’s Morris Columns and has black and whites 8x10s of old screen stars bordered by film strips.  As you lounge on a cozy sofa, movie posters and discreet numbers on each grouping are one of the few reminders it’s not your den.

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Nonfiction

Seven is administration and not open to public.  On Six, by the bound newspapers, I realize a dumbwaiter leaves the lift free for customers.  The rest of the floor is spiffy, spacious and well used by students.

Interesting touches are everywhere.  Artwork turns corridors into exhibitions.  Built in benches let visitors plop as they please.  Any alcove is an excuse for an oversize picture showing Taiwan’s tourist spots while nooks and crannies have Tiffany lamps, Reading Beijing, palms, the Northern Region Resource Center and a backlit title of the month diorama in a bamboo pocket.

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Stick figures strum instruments by a traditional Formosan canoe

I noticed a few patrons sleeping on couches in reading areas on Five and Four and government publications and foreign languages on the latter level.  In contrast to many US institutions they request you put materials back.

I was tempted, but skipped 😉 the hopscotch diagram painted on the linoleum as you go into Reference on Three.  These helpful employees oversee a collection so large it has archival rolling shelves and kindly host a place for cell phone charging.

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Microfilm and fiche cabinets, a new arrivals console and other fixtures here match the gray hutch, so framed pictures add color to study tables and computers as do shiny volumes by a globe, atlases and bureaus of map drawers.

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Neat metallic look suits the Chinese characters on the spines

A notice advising you to keep away from the stacks during earthquakes was a bit of a shocker, as was another pointing to an escape sling (?)!

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The American Corner encourages study abroad in the US and has lots of guides for our colleges and universities.  Attempting to influence your decision, pieces of Americana join shots of popular tourist sights and iconic images like cowboys and cacti.

As on many levels, Magazines and Periodicals on Two was too busy for photographs since I wasn’t allowed to shoot people due to privacy concerns, but I was impressed by the amount of back issues held.

There’s manga for adults and online, TPL links to downloadable books and media, databases and directories, information for foreigners, an introductory video, reading clubs and MyEgov, Taipei’s simple petition system.

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TPL even has little desks in stairwells to take advantage of the metropolitan and mountain vistas

Taiwan prioritizes its population’s development and well being and the library’s plans for the future reflect this.  Enhancing communication between the government and inhabitants, continually adding and improving services relevant to a diverse citizenry, and staying abreast of cutting edge technology while keeping the human touch are lofty goals but I have no doubt Taipei Public Library will accomplish them.

 

 

 

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Flourishing Fort Williams

Fort Williams Library (FWL) is situated in the town center’s tree lined pedestrian precinct.

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By an interesting mural, pretty purple doors part beneath bilingual greetings

Next to Ben Nevis, Scotland (and the UK’s) tallest mountain, FWL serves the municipality’s 10,000 people and used to be funded by its council, but is now one of 49 stationary and mobile facilities sharing resources and a unified catalog through High Life Highland (HLH), the agency responsible for adult education, culture, well being and recreation in the region.

In the foyer, a bulletin board heralds upcoming events in the vicinity.  I browsed the rack of brochures then passed into a large room with lots of natural light from panes in the raised ceiling.

IMG_0940Right by the front, New Stock and recommendations on end caps lure you in.  Signs on portable stacks announce categories like Romance and Health and an overhead big screen TV keeps you aware of current happenings.

On one level, Leabharlann a’ Ghearasdain as it’s known in the native tongue (sadly spoken by less than ten percent of the population these days) is tidy and friendly with free wifi, a microfiche, scanner and ten busy computers that are available for tourists and inhabitants alike.IMG_0939On little tables, a binder tells you “What’s going on in Lochaber” (the area around Fort Williams) and a suggestion box invites comments while the presentation panels display the results of a recent customer feedback questionnaire.  Ensuing actions range from more Lego clubs, magazines and volunteer opportunities for adolescents to a Code Club for tweens and simplification of book sale prices (just pay what you can now!).  According to the survey, 70 percent of respondents come weekly at least, and if not for HLH, around 40 percent wouldn’t have access to a PC or internet.  But as the comments make clear, the system brings additional benefits – a homeless person feels it’s a welcoming spot to spend the day and another user appreciates the human contact and says it’s always a pleasure.

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The spinner contains ordnance survey maps for the many hillwalkers to consult

Continually striving for satisfied patrons, HLH employs mystery shoppers.  Even using exacting standards, such as helping someone within five minutes, reports are quite positive, though street signage will be improved – a good way to bring in new members.

At the circulation desk, I spoke to the two cheery and informative library assistants.IMG_0929Nicola and Emma explained that HLH has vans to move things around since they can be dropped off at any site.  Fort Williams is the second largest settlement in the northwest, so gets delivery each Thursday and second Monday while the main city, Inverness, gets it daily.  New acquisitions often go back to their original home, but otherwise items stay so supplies are constantly refreshed, one more advantage of connecting so many locations.

Materials are barcoded but people preferred to have a chin wag with staff, so the self check idea was abandoned as was, due to the odd stuff people threw in, an outdoor book return.

Sconces give off a muted glow in this pleasant meeting space.

IMG_1005But the two reading groups, Craft and Chat, author appearances and the weekly adult programs usually happen in the larger Community Room.

HLH institutions put on a wide variety of activities.  Take guitar or mandolin (!) lessons, discover photography and flower arranging, play Scrabble, attend the Mad Hatter’s Tea party or a family bake off, seek college guidance or have fun decorating rocks at Dotty Stones.  Residents enjoy Books and Brews, frequent art days and quiz nights, and go to origami, calligraphy, jewelry making, writing, genealogy and poetry workshops.  Expand your garden at the annual plant swap, get fit at Tai Chi and chair based yoga, or improve your watercolor and advanced knitting techniques.

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Gaelic tome

On the website, peruse reviews, Gaelic titles, LGBT volumes, and special collections by branch or download free electronic newspapers, magazines, books, audios and over 19,000 digitized classic comics and graphic novels.  Show support by clicking the donate tab, link to adult learning, or complete an entry form for the writing competition.  The online reference library has a plethora of test, consumer, literary, language, business, research and cultural databases, plus software training videos.IMG_0975FWL has Playaways and lends audios for one pound and DVDs for less than two pounds for two weeks.  It doesn’t cost to place holds or renew and adults can borrow up to 20 items at once for three weeks.  Policy dictates that seniors aren’t charged late fees, under 16’s don’t have fines for adult books, and no one pays on juvenile and teen things!

Facebook is awash in images of HLH at festivals, videos of Teddy Bears’ Summer Camp, advertisements for Technobots, dyslexia advice, drama club and an architecture exhibit as well as cross promotions of district government entities and job postings.  Walking tours, board game nights, assistance for Ipads and smart phones and an intergenerational gathering where the young teach the old computer skills round out the offerings.

The page is kind of an online gallery – one cluster of photos highlights different types of bikes (love the concrete one sporting a superfluous lock and chain).  The Journal of the Van Man is a virtual ride with the bookmobile driver.  Shots put you on the ferry he takes to one of his island stops and let you see the seasonal changes of a scenic viewpoint on the route, but the best was his favorite road sign – Caution Otters!

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Summer reading challenge, Bookbug is below the pirate ship

A third set features Bookbug as the stuffed animal mascot travels to castles, Roman baths and a safari park.

FWL stages story, song and rhyme for preschoolers four times a week.  One of these sessions is in Gaelic and kids can choose titles from Polish, Russian and Lithuanian also.  The library encourages class visits and instruction and the parents’ nook has materials on pregnancy and birth, special needs, difficult issues…

IMG_0979Children’s is furnished in primary hued picture book bins, bean bags, and a scarlet cushioned bench over storage drawers.  Vibrant posters use cartoons to simplify Dewey and sequined crowns and princess costumes in the dress up crate let imaginations soar.  Plush toys include a patchwork quilt pig, Kanga and Roo and Tigger too.

Tots get numbers practice from a carpet and wooden jigsaw puzzles and learn the alphabet via shelf separators with upper and lower case letters and an example noun.  A colorful painting by a young talent of Hugless Douglas, the bear in a Celtic language translation for kids, adorns a wall by junior fiction…

IMG_0981…where a papier-mâché Nessie joins a monstrous carpet to remind you this is Loch Ness country.

How nice to find such a charming and useful establishment amidst the natural wonder of the Scottish Highlands.

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The leabharlann lies between the mountains and an arm of the sea

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Porthmadog’s Positioned Perfectly…

…for the community’s convenience.

Llyfrgell Porthmadog (LP) or in English, Porthmadog Library, on the west coast of Wales by lovely Snowdonia National Park, shares quarters with the leisure centre.

IMG_0652A few steps from downtown by the supermarket and tennis courts, it’s fronted by a garden with raised plots, potted plants, wooden tables and benches, and a charmingly painted shed.

IMG_0659Sian and Gwen, library assistants, greeted me warmly at the circulation desk.

The foyer is separated from the gymnastics and swimming by a partition with a middle ribbon of frosted glass etched in books and soccer balls highlighting the dual purpose of the building.

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LP’s lobby looks out onto a busy cafe and pool

Cases of new books, DVDs, top sellers and district informational pamphlets fill the lounge and inside the brick wall, shelves on wheels featuring Quick Choices, Travel, Westerns and Biographies, wend their way around the place.    IMG_0722

End panels boast recommendations and everywhere bilingual signs acknowledge that, for many people here, Welsh is the primary tongue.

LP has free wifi throughout the structure and six internet computers for adults (UK card holders can use them whilst here on vacation and overseas visitors are charged 2 pounds per half hour).  They can regulate the amount of time individuals are on the station in Children’s.

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Online, Resources gives free access to school, literary and test databases, encyclopedias, and the National Library of Wales’ e-subscriptions and trove of old digitized newspapers.

The website is in Welsh, of course.  A discreet tab provides the English translation and links go to pertinent sites like the Twitter account, nationwide virtual reference, the family advice service, Open University, and what sounds like a wonderful idea for preserving your heritage – People’s Collection Wales, a multimedia repository for storing your memories.

In good examples of interagency cooperation, the page promotes the local archive, appointments with Macmillan Cancer Support coordinators, and Bookstart, the UK’s national scheme for early reading that supplies parental instructional brochures and baby’s first books.

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The atmosphere is cheery – patrons perch on bright furniture and a futuristic vermillion and gray couch by Youth ensures the comfort of tots’ guardians.

LP is part of Llyfrgelloedd Gwynedd, which joins thirteen libraries in this sparsely populated region that was once an ancient kingdom.  Materials are chosen by the User Services Manager and a regular bookmobile goes to remote villages.  The system also delivers to the mobility challenged and their full time carers.  Users can borrow 20 titles for three weeks and checkout two DVD’s for one.  There’s no charge for most books, any Welsh language tapes and the electronic books, audios, magazines and comics.  Interlibrary loans are all free within Wales except when they buy a brand new book for a specific request.  They charge £1 to £7 for books from outside Wales or from the British Library (usually books for study or more specialised volumes).

You can rent a meeting room and teachers can order stuff for classes.  Large print texts and items for those with visual impairment are available, as well as therapy books for youngsters trying to overcome problems or understand touchy issues.

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I was pleased Anna Yardley Jones, the Llyfrgellydd Ardal (Area Librarian) was there.  Though based at LP, she’s responsible for Nefyn, Pwllheli, Cricieth and Blaenau Ffestiniog too, so luckily is full time though her three staffers work more limited hours.  Anna studied Welsh History in college and did a joint honors in Welsh and librarianship.  She told me they are supported by the council and were able to move here in February 2015 after winning a 250,000 pound grant to become a shared space for residents.  It was sad to move from their old premises, but there’s more parking here.

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In the children’s area the stacks of audios, novels and easy readers become a smiling steam train and board book bins resemble box cars.

I went during summer when they have several Welsh story and rhyme times which will assist the effort to reach a target of a million Welsh speakers that Anna mentioned.

For the Reading Challenge, Anifail-Ysbiwyr or Animal Agents, LP hands out incentives such as wrist bands, scratch and sniff stickers, key fobs, door hangers and bookmarks.  Kids who come three times and take out nine books receive a certificate and a medal.  Associated activities include animal shows, movement, music and story sessions and various crafts (participants are wisely advised to wear old clothes).  Other branches have Spies Academy (ah, the meaning of Animal “Agents” becomes clear), treasure hunts, face painting, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier…Spider?, and a fairy folk trip to Lyn Barfog, the legendary origin of the country’s black cattle.

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One of the many offerings in Welsh

Announcements on Facebook appear first in Welsh then below in English.  Pictures of customers enjoying head massages, babies playing, tots proudly showing off egg carton monsters or examining crates of critters, and masked kids posing for agent IDs pack the page.  A post invites you to join a group making a library mural and banners herald new acquisitions and a host of enticing events like magic and clown shows, picnics, beginner’s web classes, relaxation training, maths revision, book and art sales, wellness walks with refreshments, and 3 D modeling, weaving, art or drama workshops.  The holidays bring a Christmas raffle for the small set and adults can fashion felt ornaments.

LP has bimonthly storytimes…

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…and story sacks containing pop up and touch and feel books, games and toys.  Books Bags have multi sensory contents appropriate for juveniles who have learning disabilities.

Students can spread out by the reference tomes, then treat themselves to a teen title after finishing.

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Suitably for a location in a fitness facility, the library presents an array of health and well being programs on subjects like cholesterol, Alzheimer’s, travel insurance and sun safety and has aroma, gardening and music therapy and displays on cancer.  Adults attend talks on planting herbs, dementia and energy bills or go to tai chi workouts, get laptop help, listen to poetry in the garden and relieve stress in coloring groups.

Llyfrgell Porthmadog seems to have thought of just about everything to better the lives of citizens.

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Yet another reason to visit – beautiful Black Rock Sand Beach

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Fulfilling Füssen

While in the highest town in Germany’s Bavaria last summer I went to Stadt Bibliothek Füssen (SBF).

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SBF is on left

Housed in a baroque monastery, the stairs down are half-timbered so I’m surprised to find sleek glass and steel fixtures.  Futuristic sconces and floor lamps dot the premises and attractive Plexiglas and brushed metal stands hold staff suggestions and informational pamphlets.  At the spiffy circulation desk, Tina greeted me warmly, but due to policy, couldn’t be in the photo.

IMG_0385It’s one level, and though quite hot outside, its cellar location means air conditioning is unnecessary.  The building is on a steep slope, so despite the catacomb style entry, as you move further in, the vaulted ceilings, tall arched windows and whitewashed walls impart a bright and airy feel.

IMG_0395The crisp white racks have lots of holes to allow adjustment for displays.  Sandwiched between two normal cases acting as end panels, tiers of audiobooks are presented face out.

Sliding drawers let you easily browse the 6,400 CDs, films and brand new releases in Media.

IMG_0388SBF is one of the largest public facilities around.  Founded in 1958 as Volksbücherei (people’s library), a 2011 expansion brought modernized equipment and turned it into the ideal community gathering place where people chat to friends, surf the web or relax over a cup of coffee and a newspaper.

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Selfcheck

SBF has an association that, like a Friend’s group, advocates for them and seeks relationships with regional schools, cultural organizations and governing bodies.  

There are three internet computers and free wifi for all.  Use has tripled to 130,000 loans per year in just a decade.  Up to age 18, you don’t pay, and then it’s 20 euro a year or buy a family card for 30 euro.  Materials go out for four weeks except periodicals go out for two and ILL is available.

It’s a very different layout from a typical library.  Long cabinets are custom fit, sinking below openings and creating exhibition areas on top.

Fascinating sculptures and art constructions catch the eye.

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Infinity effect

Classics and bestsellers are propped up on a long single ledge running down one side of the corridor and shelves are off the ground so can be cleaned underneath.

The library does a monthly tour, and has concerts, lectures and author appearances.   Discuss books at LiteraturCafé or go to a cinema night or “Bittersüß” (bittersweet), a series of happenings from October to April.  In summer, Martin Harbauer, an actor and professional storyteller from the Bavarian Theater Academy, reads from Hesse, Goethe, Melville and London.

IMG_0399In Teen’s, high seats by a PC, graffiti splashed walls and manga make a statement about the expected audience.  SBF carried video games until 2015 but got rid of them in hopes of encouraging people to play board games together (they have a whole slew for checkout), so the TV console and headsets are now solely for previewing movies.

IMG_0420Exploring the attached courtyard, I admired the exterior’s whimsical details – terracotta tiles cap a high wall and a small bronze roof covers an octagonal enclosure perched on a buttress.

The friars slaughtered animals in this little garden and during the renovation lots of small bones from chickens and rabbits were unearthed.

Youth and Fiction are in what was once storage for the cloister…

IMG_0430… while colorful Children’s used to be the Conditorey (confectionary).  Knotted pine planks and scatter rugs lead passed offerings for tiny tots encased in stackable cubes to titles for older kids.  Wheeled contraptions hold picture books in crates and rows of paperbacks beneath.

Youngsters lounge on beanbags, benches and stools painted with favorite characters or read ensconced in curving primary hued plastic chairs.  Parents have comfortable furniture options too.IMG_0452The wonderful flag stone floor is exposed here, though I imagine the carpeted sections must be warmer in winter.

Plush toys keep toddlers occupied as juveniles select Kinder DVDs in a curtained alcove.  Backpacks contain a mixture of themed items including CD Roms and quizzes.  Appropriately for a district where crenellations are common, one was on knights and castles.  Handouts featuring upcoming adolescent activities hang from a carving of a cheerful pig-tailed girl in patchwork clothes by a charming papier-mâché giraffe.

img_0448.jpgJuniors attend regular storytimes and online the Antolin-Buchportal provides interactive reading support.

The website also has a program calendar and a slideshow of the bibliothek.  A library value calculator lets you discover taxpayers’ return on investment or subscribe to the newsletter.  Download electronic books, media and serials via Onleihe Schwaben or search the Brockhaus Encyclopedia.

SBF lends energy conservation kits and has a wide array of map packages for recreational adventures like cycling, crosscountry skiing or hiking (“wandern” in Deutsch – what a great word for it!).  Wicker seats by a fretted sun streaked window make an inviting spot and near a bulletin board with patron tips and reviews, a frame around a PAC supplies even more promotional space.

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Lots of light for studying

In the only place with anything resembling stacks I met Sabine Frey, the director or Bibliotheksleitung (library management).  Until 2010, SBF had a mere 144 square meters (1550 square feet) and now it’s 946 square meters (more than 10,000 square feet) and has 42,434 items.  The city budgets 35,000 euro annually for acquisitions and takes care of employee salaries and infrastructure costs.  Four people work here – full timers Sabine and Monja (who answered my initial inquiry) and part time Tina and Moni plus several volunteers who read to children and they currently have an apprentice as well.

Sabine enlightened me about the abbey’s past.  Originally, this room was the kitchen and its former Komedihaus (theater) is now a repository for 4500 volumes of local history and its special collection on Totentanz (Dance of the Dead – there’s a famous one here) and violin and lute fabrication, crafts inextricably linked to Füssen.

All the paintings and installations have some connection to the area.

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Fanciful instrument

I was intrigued by this piece and by three similar ones in a recess above Travel.

Sabine then led me into the pièce de résistance, the Orangerie, a stunning chamber   perfect for library functions and meetings.

img_0512-e1501713616371.jpgAt other times, the conservatory is open to anyone who wants to enjoy a beautiful venue lit by the soft glow of chandeliers.  Read papers attached to spindles or choose one of the 50 magazines from an antique white vitrine.  If you’re thirsty, help yourself to some water from the pitcher on the portable bar by the small kitchen or grab a macchiato from the Café, where a cupboard filled with crockery flanks an honor system coffee machine.  A woodstove sheathed in a towering pearlescent gray unit effectively disperses heat to keep it cozy as you ease into a striking blue and fuchsia cube shaped cushioned chair.

Füssen gets so many tourists they can borrow from SBF for free using the KönigsCard.  Without it, visitors pay five euro to use the library while here.  So if you ever go to Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for the one at Disneyland, be sure to take a “peak.”

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Surrounding scenery

You won’t regret a side trip to this magnificent edifice on the banks of the Lech, and the delightful library inside will welcome you with open arms as you gape at its architectural gems.

What an appealing destination!  The citizens of this lovely old town are very fortunate.

 

 

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