Dauntless D. C.


The main DC Public Library (DCPL) was closed for renovation when I was in our nation’s capital at cherry blossom time last spring, but I got a chance to visit the West End Neighborhood Library (WE), one of its 25 branches.


Daffodils were blooming in a wide strip of plants bordering the building and visible to all inside thanks to floor to ceiling plate glass windows.


In the lobby, express internet, self check and the catalog are straight ahead and to the right is a large coffee shop.  The bulletin board and big screen TV display up to date information and a few recommendations are scattered about.

I spoke to two friendly staffers at the circulation desk before looking up to admire Paragons of the West End.


The system’s foundation commissioned Adrienne Gaither for this magnificent piece that runs the length of the raised portion of the interior and calls attention to the high ceiling.

The library is very modern with huge tilted concrete pillars that make an emphatic statement and form geometric patterns.  Vibrant primary colored shelves accent the bright and airy facility.


I ran into Kevin Osborne, who’s in charge of this location, and he mentioned WE had just reopened last December after their renovation.  Among other things, a courtyard for warm weather fun was installed and I was delighted to learn they operated out of the infamous Watergate during construction.


Next to the patio, Children’s has nine computers and a Women’s History Month wall celebrating Sonia Sotomayor, Tina Fey, Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo etc.   Another happy moment occurred when I noticed Shirley Chisholm’s face amid the luminaries – my mother campaigned for the congresswoman in the ’72 primary when she was the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s nomination.  Can’t get away from politics in DC 😉


Eye level busy boxes on the ends of the picture book bins and racks keep toddlers entertained while parents look for new titles.  Blond wood slat partitions give the space a crisp, clean look and patterned carpet tiles covers up spills and can be replaced.


Near grape storage cabinets kids have the perfect seat to cozy up with a favorite author and the adjacent long hallway accommodates ample stroller parking.  Petite tables and chairs create a study area by an enormous mural depicting vines twining around two reading tots.  A Garden Party by Nekisha Durrette is courtesy of the DC Public Library Foundation too.


In just one week WE youngsters have several options besides the many storytimes for a variety of ages.  Go to Lego or book club, do crafts, or under two’s and preschoolers can take mini language skills sessions.

Elsewhere there are playgroups and storytimes in Spanish or pajamas or attended by dogs.  At dance parties, wee ones try out various instruments or go to beginning ESL.  Maker! lets youth over six create a different project weekly – mini robots, helicopter games, racing cars, airplanes, films, programming games and more.  At After School Zone, 9-12’s hang out or join in for activities, puzzles, board games… and Girls Who Code occurs during spring break.  YA’s come for Wii Game night, TAG teen advisory group and a Lounge.

DCPL also has an educator card for teachers and homeschooling parents that lets them check out up to a hundred books and audiobooks for nine weeks at a time.


Smaller gatherings use a nearby conference room instead

WE adults have coloring, yoga, anxiety reducing meditation, a film series, literary lectures and discussions, or coffee and conversation.   And the branch has a blog, its own Friends and book sale, retirement planning and author talks.

DCPL offers meet ups for beginning English speakers, tax assistance, PowerPoint I and Publisher Basics.  The job seekers legal clinic counsels on how to overcome barriers to employment or patrons can learn how to work a sewing machine or show your inner thespian at Reader’s Theater.   Tech Talk Tuesdays at the Center for Accessibility lets assistive technology users get together and share information on specific topics and Memoir Writing for Older Adults preserves precious memories.

Back in the adult section, I notice the gigantic beams have metal railings around them so people don’t accidentally walk into the slanting struts as I almost did 🙂


DCPL has an illustrious history.  Conceptualized in 1896 by an act of Congress, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated the money for the first building.  Sitting president Teddy Roosevelt was present when it was dedicated in 1903.

A federal depository, they increase visibility by setting up Library Takeouts at local happenings so residents can get a card and borrow materials immediately at their booth and as a partner of Community Connections, an organization that helps people find housing and avoid homelessness, obtain IDs, apply for benefits etc.


WE has an alcove with a copy and print center, five study rooms, wifi, 24 adult PCs and three Mac stations on long tables by Teen Fiction.  Other branches house the Memory Lab (scanning and digitization equipment), Studio Lab (recording and audiovisual post-production) and a configuration that let families visit D.C. Jail inmates via video.

Online you’ll find staff picks, an array of research guides and a slew of interesting podcasts.  In one, someone reads the first fifty pages to let you know if you should bother.  A second has episodes concentrating on overrated titles and suggested substitutes and there’s a Georgetown Poetry Series.  The website enhances the collection by 15 million items through goDigital movies, eBooks, etc.  Its learning arm, goThink, has tons of resources from music scores to consumer reviews to “InstantFlix” (notable shorts, documentaries and indie cinema) and includes Universal Class, a continuing education module, as well as databases like the Washington Post and New York Times archives from inception to present.


Reference, graphic novels and manga

Facebook features snaps of high profile galas and banner ads for Freegal Music and programs like Senior Speakeasy, Essential Oils, Open Mic Night and Mixtape Monday.  A video shows the Morehouse College’s Glee Club and Quartet preparing to sing and other postings promotes functions like Indoor & Outdoor Entertaining, where an interior decorator and a landscape designer impart their tips and tricks, and Death Cafe (to help make the most of your remaining days on Earth and discuss any concerns about mortality – with refreshments!).

#OnThisDayAtDCPL, a Twitter feed honoring the past, reports in 1905 they had 35,000 cardholders, and circulated about 1,500 books per day but now have 400,000 members taking out about 11,000 things per day and that “The Washington Post reported that eight neighborhood women modeled “the latest in women’s wear” in a fashion show held at the Chevy Chase library on Mar. 23, 1928. More than 200 people attended the event, which also featured orchestra music.”  How cool!  And to cap off Black History Month they were co-hosting a Twitter chat with “Who Is The Black Panther?” author Jesse J. Holland.


Lovely green glow

During the three years it’ll take to upgrade the flagship Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, they’ve opened a small express facility near it that has holds pick up, accessibility and adult literacy centers, some public internet stations and a training lab where most of the computer classes are taught.  Plus, DCPL extended hours and added public desktops at all branches.  You can still see the special collections by appointment.  I didn’t make one, so sadly missed the D.C. Punk Archive (comprised of personal ephemera like zines, photos, flyers, badges, bootlegs, cassettes, tickets and posters donated by fans and insiders).

Once the $208 million revamp is finished, the Mies van der Rohe designed edifice will boast a café and patio, an auditorium, a conference center, new reading room, a terraced roof top event space and spots for music production, fabrication and art creation.


From the WWII Memorial

What a marvelous boon for the congressionally underrepresented citizens of the District of Columbia!

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Bountiful Baltimore

Just a short Amtrak ride from DC, I got a chance to see this fascinating city at the end of March and to visit the grand Enoch Pratt Free Library (EPFL) .


Director of Communications Meghan McCorkell had emailed they were undergoing their very first major renovation to the tune of $115 million, so much of the library was closed off.  But the building is so enormous, alternative accommodations are easily found for all sections and the jobs, public computing and reading areas hummed with energy.

The scaffolding shrouded door belied a soaring marble lobby.  A guard greeted us from a marvelous structure resembling an overgrown glass baptismal font-cum-bird cage.


Once finished in 2019, they will have expanded the Children’s, training, technology, conference and public spaces, added multi-purpose creative areas, a designated Job/Career Center and a YA wing, and brought in cutting edge equipment.  The Central Hall and historical features will be refinished and HVAC etc. modernized too.

But for now we negotiate a maze of traffic cones, tarps and caution tape to reach the elevators…


…to the third floor and a corridor that’s a study in contrast to the one we just left.


Gleaming surfaces and glowing trim lit by soft light from ship’s wheel lamps lead to vistas of Benjamin Latrobe’s Baltimore Basilica (the first catholic cathedral in the US) from Microfilm and Periodicals.

Up here, Baltimore Cash helps people do taxes and plan finances and there are ample closets for storage (not including the three staff only sub levels).  Everyone is welcoming and eager to assist.


Each story is so high, the top has expansive views of metropolitan rooftops

And a plethora of information is available from the website which features hot new titles, regular podcasts on subjects like Activist Entrepreneurs, Budgeting Basics and “Writers LIVE”, and promotions for Hoopla free streaming movies, Flipster magazines, the Annual Gala, drop in crafts, Zumba, legal aid clinics and the Fairy Tale Festival.  Video updates keep you apprised of the restoration’s progress, and you can email a question or connect to virtual reference, suggest a purchase or figure out how much EPFL materials and activities save you annually.  Search databases running the gamut from auto repair to Digital Maryland (for scanned MD artwork, photos, old maps and manuscripts) or download ebooks and eaudiobooks.

A link for under 18’s lets them volunteer for the Community Youth Corps Program (there’s one for adults also).  Or make a donation (I like the gentle, if somewhat ghoulish, hint to remember them in your will or as a life insurance beneficiary).  EPFL’s numerous supporters include Friends, the Pratt Society and the Pratt Contemporaries (for young professionals).  The latter two both have exclusive annual celebrations benefiting the library.


Due to the transitory nature of things, portable self check and easily moved free standing wire racks of recent acquisitions dot the premises.

The library is obviously an integral part of Baltimore.  They solicit outside input via online feedback forms and the Pratt Advisory Council comprised of community representatives.  A social worker moves around the system helping people with benefits, homelessness, addiction, immigration, health and safety issues.


Security Officer Moses

After walking through a busy room packed with workstations, I noticed a slew of DVDs presented by category – Urban Cinema, Asian Action (no subtitles!), new Anime, an extensive foreign selection, STEAM (I’d heard of STEM, but this adds “art” to the science, technology, engineering and math videos) etc.

In the business area, Librarian I Sreedevi was camera shy but told me they schedule individual appointments for patrons seeking work so your own personal librarian can help you search for vacancies, write resumes, complete applications, discover apprenticeships and training courses or point out resources like test guides or binders full of available jobs kept current by Workforce Librarian Jeanne Lauber.  There’s a grants librarian who can help write proposals too.


My jaw dropped at the gorgeous intricacies of the architecture every time I looked up.  Megan was right on target when she wrote that the newly restored ceilings are breathtaking.


Even the water fountains, heating grates, clocks and light panels are elegant and furnishings and fixtures complement the magnificence of the edifice.  The wrought iron, brass and marble stairwells, benches and wainscoting are stunning as is the parquet floor, built in book shelves and a fireplace of a big enclosure perfect for classy affairs.

The roots of this venerable institution go back to 1882 and a million dollar endowment from Enoch Pratt for a place where anyone, be they rich or poor, black, white, purple or green, could borrow books. Four years later, two locations opened to the citizens and by 1888, EPFL had five branches.  Eight years after inception, in 1894, it had the third largest collection and circulation of public libraries in America.  In the early twentieth century, a half a million dollars from Andrew Carnegie allowed them to construct numerous facilities and as always they led by example – providing services specifically for kids in ’27, then for young adults in 1932 and in 1949 lending films.


Snazzy stack ends

Now the library lends laptops for in-house use, has wifi and each day teaches a few computer classes for diverse audiences from homeschoolers to seniors on a variety of topics at five of their locales.  EPLF has wheelchair accessible stations and many have assistive technology.  Besides Spanish, they offer fiction in over thirty languages and checkout e-book readers.


Subtle pastel molding enhances the atrium

System wide, adults can join in line dancing or Jamercise, make pillows and kites, listen to jazz concerts, nutrition lectures and tips for home sellers, or come for mock employment interviews, veterans meet up groups, art exhibits and bingo.  Constructive criticism from the Writer’s Exchange hones authors’ skills or just relax at book “speed dating” (discussions).

Teens attend movies, video game or card nights or Drone Flight School, get washable tattoos, walk in tutoring or Homework Help online, or learn about 3D printing, coding, Animania and Guerilla Art.  The amount of programs in just one month is staggering – and tempting.

A large variety of Manga and graphic novels are in a spot for adolescents, but lots more is stowed away.  However, if you want something that isn’t on the shelf, someone will immediately run and get it for you as they’ve always done (how nice to have space for all those beloved, yet neglected, tomes).

Plaques by the entrance to the temporary quarters for Youth list Newbery and Caldecott winners.


The inside is cavernous and I was wowed by its truly amazing ceilings.  This is where the new, state-of-the-art Teen Wing will be housed, but these days, miniaturized sturdy dark wood stools and tables are the main decor.  On primary colored carts, picture books, baskets of plastic trucks and dinosaurs, toys and soft blocks create a diversion while youngsters await storytime.

Out the windows lining one side, a red brick church against a vivid azure sky dominates the landscape.  Favorites here are displayed on cube pyramids and a crepe paper ocean motif adorns the case of Reef to Read titles on marine animals that those in fifth grade and below read to win valuable tickets to see actual sea creatures at the nearby National Aquarium.

EPFL events for tots include all sorts of storytimes, family films, building balloon cars, Zumbini, drawbots, Jenga, Quiz Bowl, Slimy Wednesdays and black light Twister.  A 24 hour anytime story is just a phone call away.


On the ground level in the sleek Carla D. Hayden Wing, I admired the array of drawings from illustrator Floyd Cooper as I headed along a hallway flanked by well lit vitrines.  Passing the Maryland Room and its historical and genealogical materials (the State Library Resource Center and government documents are also here) I came to the African American Department…


Librarian Emily Sachs

…where vibrant works of art anchor either end of the stylish and quiet chamber.

The Mencken Room is another sparkling gem and EPFL publishes Menckeniana Magazine a journal about H. L. Mencken as well as the Pages From The Pratt newsletter for donors and Friends and Compass, has news and happenings for users.


The library has a Twitter account, blog, RSS feeds and a Facebook page with great shots of toddlers proudly holding newly fashioned lanterns or prized books and employees at outreach booths at local fairs and rallies.  Rapt audiences watch a drummer or hear from revered guests.  Banners announce poetry contests, booksales and Kwanzaa gatherings or give shout outs to the police, sponsors and MLK.  Short reports, customer reviews, and positive quotations round out the postings.


I love the steps to the second tiers and perhaps the most astonishing ceiling of all

EPFL has a total of 21 branches plus a regional information center holding 10,000 items on economic development, environmental issues, demographics and urban planning.  A bookmobile, early literacy Book Buggy for day care and pediatric health clinics, and a travelling Job RV with computers and specially trained staff supplement services.


The Southeast Library has a bust of Frank Zappa and Edgar Allen Poe, another native son, has his own room at EPFL, but this EAP, made from Peeps and installed at another wonderful B’more attraction, the American Visionary Art Museum, was too much to resist.  Enjoy!

I think Enoch Pratt Free Library has thought of just about everything it can possibly do to improve the lives of residents.  What a fabulous place!


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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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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…


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…


…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.


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!).


For statistics

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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Serene Spot by Angkor Wat


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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 😉 ).


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.”


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.



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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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 (?)!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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

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