Neighborly Newport

Downtown, across from an old stone church, Rhode Island’s Newport Public Library (NPL) is a long low two story modern brick building set in a large park.  White projections cap the clerestory and complement the pale stucco entrance, as do the flanking trellises and planters.  A pocket garden frames the handsome marble bar announcing their name and bushes, flowers and trees dot the property.


Newport Public Library

Nestled in a hill, it’s an interesting setup.  Accessed from a large parking lot, the doorway on the opposing side is somewhat higher.  Just a few steps lead from the foyer to the second level where the materials reside.  Though probably energy efficient, this could have contributed to a costly and ill timed flood over Memorial Day weekend.  Debris from a violent storm backed up a drain and they were still recovering from the inundation when I visited towards the end of July.


Other lobby

Back at the street front “cellar” entrance, despite patching and renovating operations, a Friends book sale was in full swing.  Though they have a substantial store, with presentation shelves outside, it spills onto folding tables in the vestibule.  CDs, records and choices for the little ones join the hardcovers and subjects are revealed by cheery handwritten placards on tall sticks.  Five paperbacks for a dollar tempt vacationers  while literary themed knickknacks add to the mood and framed art features pictures from the city and surrounding Atlantic.  Hanging just under the ceiling, a big screen advertising current and upcoming attractions lures browsers upstairs.


Permanent place for fundraising efforts

Alongside this bibliophile’s bonanza, the basement is home to administration and employee quarters, comfort stations, vending machines, bulletin boards, a program enclosure, and meeting and board rooms.


Papered suitably :)

And to my delight I came upon a portrait of Natalie Savage Carlson, author of one of my favorite childhood reads, The Empty Schoolhouse, who lived and died in the vicinity.

A glass and wood cabinet combining sailing and jazz volumes celebrates two of the municipality’s more obvious claims to fame – the Newport Jazz Festival and the America’s Cup.


Kelly at Main Desk

Going up one flight I passed security gates to check in with friendly Kelly standing behind a verdant arrangement of seashells, sandcastles, potted plants and ivy at Circulation.  After assuring him that I had permission (thanks for the help Kirby!) to take patronless photos, I scanned the premises, slightly in awe of the ample space for the collection.

A mounted television promotes free museum passes and a stand lets you inspect the 3M ebooks (plus NPL has Zinio and Overdrive).  There are return slots for media and books too.  Sadly, I also notice sign of the times bookmarks educating you on how to respond to an active shooter, but on a happier note, another handout lists weekly exercise classes.  Zumba, Hatha Yoga, CrossFit, T’ai Chi and Boot Camp are just a sampling of the options.



Directly across from the entrance, the media zone is expansive.  TV series have their own racks and they carry Blu-ray.   It’s adjacent to a huge magazine area with plenty of seats, but I head towards YA, drawn by the welcoming cutout letters at its information desk.


Decorated for the Get in the Game… Read! summer reading program, Teens sports a manga and anime stack and a wide selection of new titles and audios.  Six computers are provided and students get support from a homework console.  Offerings include 3D Printing, Dinner & a Movie and sewing, cooking and crafting seminars.

Back in the grownup sections, unoccupied aisles are illuminated as you approach and I see graphic novels for adults and Spanish items.  As elsewhere, fiction is conveniently categorized as romance, mystery…   Pretty baskets contain beach books and a small reading spot has easy chairs overlooking the verdant landscape.   Local history emphasizes the past with antique printer’s tools and old tomes and seafaring photos packed in an Asian influenced hutch.


Intriguing pale wood cases match the furnishings and market NPL’s latest acquisitions while in the seemingly endless corridor beacons shine on a neon green niche pushing large print and a second indentation of staff picks and biographies.


Looking lengthwise

Admirably, hand sanitizer stands and recycling bins are abundant.

The Maker Lab Computer Room is dark but customers can sit on brightly hued plastic wheeled chairs at any of the twenty public internet terminals and wifi is free.

Saving the fun for last, I passed holds self pickup by kids’ music and CDs and went to the storytime enclave where purple paper wrapped tables let toddlers express themselves by a sink and toy and supply filled cupboards as they wait for a session or puppet show to begin on the colorful alphabet rug.

Sun streaming in from the lofty panes just below Children’s raised roof give it a light and airy ambiance.  Racing flags draped from above herald the youth SRP On Your Mark, Get Set, Read! as do the golf bag, pennants, hula hoops, footballs, mini trophies, foam hockey sticks, NHL player cutouts and glittery spiraling sports memorabilia mobiles.


Junior area

Kid’s has multi hued wavy stacks and geometric flooring.  Two early literacy no internet computers preloaded with age appropriate software and games reassure parents and busy boxes engage tots, while six PCs attract adolescents.  Outdoors, massive trunks bear sweeping branches that shade the red and yellow stools at the ledge halving the plate glass window or you can curl up in painted nooks embedded in the shelf wrapping around the walls.


Starry Night cubbies?

Juveniles attend raptor encounters, math and Lego clubs, movies and guitar sing-a-longs and Pokemon and dance parties.

Topped by tiny cartoon faced hassocks, the marine motif is found here as well in a vivid carpet portraying a scene of varied creatures from the depths.  Three spacious playhouses in primary tones accommodate a passel of youngsters and older ones can peer through attic openings.  Board books are stowed in a diminutive version of these domiciles.


Easy ingress from back

They are open six days a week and the website has Twitter, flickr, Pinterest, Instagram, and facebook accounts.  Outreach is available for the ill, preschools and nursing facilities.  Users get assistance in a variety of tech topics or chat on AskRI with the Providence PL reference department.  Adults have travel slideshows, gardening, organizing and genealogy talks, films, a paranormal investigator’s supernatural evening, and crochet and book groups.

NPL is a great resource for surrounding communities, but all Little Rhody residents can use it via the Ocean State Libraries consortium, which lets you borrow and return almost all materials to any RI location and gives taxpayers more bang for the buck by sharing a catalog, telecommunications network, research databases…


Sunset from a wharf

In a fascinating state of bridges, islands, boats and water, water everywhere, Newport is the crown jewel – how lucky to also have such a gem of a library!

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Beguiling Beijing


Great Wall at Mutianyu – 1.5 hrs away

The magical land of China, full of friendly, obliging citizens, is endowed with a fantastic civic benefit in Beijing’s Capital Library (CL) in the Chaoyang District.

Like so much of the ultramodern city’s architecture, it’s enormous and impressive.

Close to the subway, CL’s two gigantic edifices reside in a vast campus enclosed by a green and gold brass fence.  Steps from a beautiful plaza pass decorative characters and lead to the marvelous pagoda shaped mirrored front door.  Rough hewn stone blocks at the foundation supply stability for the gleaming tiles covering the higher levels of monolithic Building A, the juvenile and young adult sector.


Capital Library

Signs all over specified no snapshots were allowed, but as I put my knapsack in the security scanner I asked a guard if I could shoot the elegant marble staircase, appropriately festooned with balloons as it was Dragon Boat Festival time.  After he agreed I noticed EVERYONE was taking pictures of EVERYTHING, totally ignoring the ubiquitous rules and the employees seemed untroubled by the flagrant violations, so I went crazy.  I’ve posted far more photos than usual this time, partially to make up for my lack of understanding since I was unable to secure a tour in English and I have only the (poor) translation of the website to refer to, so my apologies in advance on the paucity of data.


Entry to Children’s

A statue of a doting parent sitting on a bench and her son looking up at the sky is echoed by two live models.  Inside Youth it’s light and airy with attractive wood accessories and a golden path curving through the sensible blue linoleum like the yellow brick road.



Cushy multi-hued, movable benches and chair and table sets in primary colors front a curtained stage, its top held up by tree branches.  Kid’s has a forest motif.  Pillars spread as they get higher just like the oaks their boards are made of and green and gray leaf cutouts splatter the walls.  Plants and mobiles add to the effect.

Elsewhere solid wood upholstered couches are perfect to curl up in.  Close by, flat dark surfaces and stools and pale tilted easels let youngsters do some serious studying.


Classical presentation of multilingual dictionaries

Bone white figures on a glossy ebony wall update the famous stages of man – a crouching ape starts the series and a body hunched over a computer evincing an amusingly similar silhouette ends it.


Not the most practical storage but a cozy home for paperbacks

On comfy turquoise sofas, moms chat while a father reads aloud to his rapt daughter, head resting on dad’s lap, beneath a gigantic pumpkin complete with a colossal snail climbing up it.

A corkboard has an endless display of juvie drawings.


Budding artists share their creations

An extensive case holding magazines is complemented by this long rack with an astounding amount of kid’s newspapers on rods.


Periodicals for tots!

Before you get to the numerous state of the art self check machines where smocked attendants lend a hand, there’s a long squat circulation spot with at least five stations.


Omnipresent crimson coated clerks assist at checkout

Back in the vestibule, pillars soar to a fretted ceiling letting in rays for the playful framed photos here.  Vending machines dispense refreshments and comics by a large map.

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Steps to YA

While tons of boys and girls are running around downstairs, the more self conscious tweens on the second floor are sedately reading, working or watching flicks on a mammoth TV under tilted hatch shells affording almost complete privacy.  White with light blue neon bands, these eye catching eggs are set off by geometric light fixtures.

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Pods for adolescents

I walked through a rainbow of reflections emitted by the orange neon rimming the domed slatted enclosures that house stylish conversation pits.

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There are tall stacks of DVDs, tables have attached Ipads and privacy screens on PC carrels let multiple patrons share one surface.  A Plexiglas lamp dangles just above a listening station fitted with chrome and leather cushioned bar seats.  Further along the gorgeous knotty blond plank wall, I discovered yet another theater, this one circular.

Plenty of computers here and both children’s and teens stations have preloaded games.  I think they provide free wifi, though the iffy Google translation means I can’t be totally sure of anything.

Besides the public sections, this five story “A” side has a cultural and exhibition hall, four meeting rooms, two VIP spaces, a lounge and staff only areas above YA.

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Corridor from A to B

The grownup “B” facility is at least eight floors and is reached by stunning glassed-in bridges overlooking curvy landscaped walkways and hedgerows lit by old fashioned street lamps.  Giant stands celebrating the countries of the world start with the A’s (ah, even Andorra, an obscure place I actually spent six weeks visiting when I was 17, appears) and proceed alphabetically down the flyway.  A second span sporting massive red posters describing the current state of China leads to the soaring lobby that links the two structures.

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“Navigation Hall”

This fabulous zone has a suspended mesh bird cage construction which could be decorative or hold a stairwell.  Soaring stained glass panels top a foliage filled eatery.

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Sunbeams stream in on browsers combing the book sale.

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And I was delighted by a wonderful “nook” (if you can call it that considering the atrium roof is at least 50 feet up) of book themed sculptures and partitions.

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Installations inspired by literature

CL seeks to be a “public learning space” and has nearly 100,000 academic videos and will be launching something called Mobile HowNet soon.

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Online, the Local Classroom has what looks like lots of videos (but I couldn’t get them to play – not unusual, I couldn’t get Google or Facebook while I was in China, so I probably need some program to make it work) with lectures on Ming Silver Currency, ancient architecture in Japan vs. China, wine, plant painting, international law in the South China Sea and its resolution, being a participating father, strong teeth, culinary tradition, stories about Huanggu Temple and so much more.

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Lovely version of the 13 digit ISBN

Videos are categorized by Health (maybe the “Environment and lung cancer” one will improve China’s reputation for pollution), Special Planning, Culture and Arts, Social Sciences…  Subjects range from fitness tips, obesity, and mother’s breastfeeding, recovery and postpartum care (even more useful now that China permits two offspring per family) to Sino-US relations, Lu Xun and Lin Yutang’s Humour, learning English, Calligraphy, Mongolia’s past, a grotto art tour, how to tell stories to wee ones and household disinfection – and these are just a small sampling of the offerings.

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Help Desk

The adult quarters are expansive and shiny.  Each alcove seems to have its own theme, be it contemporary, futuristic, or furnished with exquisite intricate traditional Chinese pieces.

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Asian influence evident in high back chairs

Mahogany shelving marches along the glowing tiles and paintings depicting scenes from a bygone age hang over antique catalog cabinets.

Contrast that with the 21st century sorting assemblage.

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Sadly, despite all the luxury, the bathrooms (at least those I came upon) were the dreaded squat toilets.



But perhaps that will soon be rectified.  The website has several requests for bids for new construction and equipment. has a good summary of the complex history of CL and of Chinese public libraries in general and IFLA has an interesting paper on their development.  The chart showing growth after the revolution is fascinating.

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Neat and cheery

A deposit appears to be required for cards, but I may be misunderstanding something and I think borrowers can take out two DVDs and up to six other items, depending if you’re a teacher or student…  Titles come in over twenty languages and they have email reference.

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It’s almost like he’s posing

Technology is everywhere and countless internet access points have various functions.  The foyer’s immense obsidian half globes’ touch screens give direction.  Large monitors in media let users watch or play individual preferences.  Lattice work separates the “outdoor” section of the café where spiffy green umbrellas and potted ficas hide the workstations that comprise the actual purpose of the space, and you can peruse this huge console below.

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Flasks of learner’s tea

I’m not sure what the policy on eating is, but drinking must be permitted as everyone has their typical bottle with stems and leaves visible in the tan liquid.

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Loads of opportunities to get online

The nature design for the younger set is carried over to this side with a tree shaped cutout holding suggested materials.

Staffs and clefs float through Music which provides receivers and tuners for composing your own melodies.

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Oodles of CDs, audiobooks and DVDs are available as are three cinemas and three media rooms.


Clear, bright 45s and LPs

Admirably, in the spirit of freedom of information, CL has a government disclosure center and a museum holding over 138 kinds of Chinese books.

The Republic Books Collection has nearly 40,000 pictures and there’s a bibliography of the three million Chinese volumes accessible online or by email.

Members have nearly 60,000 ebooks to choose from in subjects like economics, IT, history, geography, politics, law, medicine and literacy as well as Duxiu Academic Search with 900 million full text pages and “Elegant First Map” with another 50,000 digital books plus 30,000 audios.


Enjoying movies

There’s an all-city reading program and events like the French political capital forum.  They also teach a variety of courses on topics like database management and studying abroad.

With government guidance, CL pools resources as part of the Capital Library Alliance consisting of over 100 school, hospital, university, research, Party and military libraries.


Views of metropolitan skyscrapers and lush grounds

Magnificent vistas beckon from all the panes forming the exoskeleton.  It’s almost overwhelming – I haven’t been to that many big libraries, but this stupendous institution compares favorably with the best I’ve seen.

And outside one of the new book ATMs doles out items 24/7.


Self serve kiosk

What I loved seeing is how people really use CL.  Engaged and intrigued by films and talks or lounging, studying, working, reading, gossiping, playing, sleeping and living, customers obviously value this exciting location!

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Oh Me Oh Mi(lan), OH…

Using the proper pronunciation of this Ohio town’s name, rather than the Italian one, these lyrics from Look At Miss Ohio make sense as regards Milan Public Library ;)


Milan Public Library (MPL)

The red tile roof on this handsome brick Carnegie facility sets off the pretty rickrack trim on its facade and the row of high windows encircling the original 1912 building.

Conveniently located across from the bandstand and monument in the town square, cheery dandelions dot the lawn while shrubs and bushes border the parking lot and paving stones guide you to a bike stand and the drink and snack vending machines in the vestibule.



Doors on either end of the spacious lobby pass polished pine bulletin boards presenting eye catching announcements of upcoming amusements above arrays of tax forms.  Ferns in ceramic pots and cushy seating by a glass coffee table provide a pleasant spot to chat.  Portraits hang from the walls and photographs highlighting the beauty of the early 20th century architecture and the 1980 addition plaque in a well lit niche commemorate the structure’s several iterations prior to the 2013 children’s wing project.


Circulation Desk

A half flight ascends to the main level and a Circulation Desk with railings protecting little ones on the two small steps that bring them face to face with personnel.  Thin crosshatching slats on the office wall and panes echo the embellishments outside.  I met Barbara, the friendly technical services librarian, and she helpfully answered my many questions.

Tweens have a lot of choices.  On “May the 4th Be With You”😉 watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Go to Free Comic Book Day or attend Pop Culture Club (all the programs have clever names – someone has a quick wit).


YA Area

Here in Milan, the young adult corner has donated board games, tall stacks with portable stairs and barstools around a high table.  Armchairs come equipped with handy writing surfaces and castors for easy repositioning.  Recommended books march around the stages of a three tiered unit.  Teens can check out games or take a Finance 101 course.

MPL is one of two locales of the combined Milan-Berlin Library District and their joint teen calendar shows a very full agenda.  Adolescents can go to the Shake Your Tail Feathers Dance Party or Get Your Tech On with pizza and video games.  Dungeons and Dragons, teen trivia tournaments, classes on mobile apps and crafts like Instagram coasters, pompom bookmarks or turning wine corks into mini-planters for Earth Day are just a few of the enticing options.

Moving on, spiffy zigzag cases hold newspapers and face out titles by the audio visual section where gleaming pyramids of DVDs and CDs live.


Smart shelving

When Barbara escorted me behind the scenes she reassured me that the realistic sword was a Game of Thrones recap party prop and that they weren’t taking in users’ recycling – the collection of milk jugs would eventually be used to construct an igloo.  An antique popcorn popper joins the typical jumble of half cataloged items…


A kindly soul in processing let me take a photo

…and program detritus that make possible such offerings as mini golf in the library,  Mother’s Day Tea, an evening of string art for Valentine’s and a chili cook-off.  Bring out your creative self with ikebana, Patio & Container Gardening and interesting craft sessions like Ukrainian egg decorating and make your own “box” car or Mason jar vases.  Hear the history behind chocolate or compete in the Chocolate Olympics.  Chance a blind date with a book, gobble up cheese tasting afternoon or play cards at regular Winter Wednesdays (with hot dogs or tacos – yum).  They have author talks, book clubs, blood drives, food for fines and at the Chinese New Year celebration, everyone made kites and drums and feasted on delicious treats.

Children have frequent storytimes and someone dressed as Ella led the Frozen sing along.  The Read 1,000 books aloud to your child before kindergarten challenge does seem a bit daunting but there are family fun nights and infant safety skill instruction too.

And there’s a great place with overstuffed sofas ideal for power naps after all that planning.


Employee lounge

I was curious about the gramophone horns scattered everywhere, which seem to be used as MPL’s symbol.  Barbara explained that Thomas Edison (TE) was from Milan and his birthplace is just a couple of blocks away.

It’s a prosperous little village, the Huron River and Milan Canal made 19th century citizens rich, so they are well supported by mil levy.  Plus, Ohio is one of the only states (besides HI, whose library system encompasses the entire state anyway) to get library funding from their government (yay Ohio!!!) and residents have bequeathed them money in their wills.  Though the service population (Edison School District) is just 3000, they have a team of twelve, who split their time between MPL and the branch in Berlin Heights.


Kid’s Room

READ is etched above the transom as you enter the realm of Children’s muted shades and gas globed streetlamps evoking the era of TE’s youth.  Iron legged school desks from yesteryear have attached seats that swing out and buckets of crayons to keep tots occupied.  Pipe fittings supporting oak planks add innovative exhibitions and a miniature hot air balloon, floating above the six PCs in the middle, sparks the imagination.


Tell me a tale!

Recesses in a brick wall show off ornaments and figurines in the storytime enclosure.  Multihued alphabet letter illustrations cover one wall and a colorful quilt with each square painted and signed by a different child encourages literacy.  Elevated privacy openings let in natural light and proclaim Learn, Connect, Explore (their web page motto).  There’s a projecting smart board, a jigsaw puzzle shaped cart and a sink with cabinets.


Movies and music are at the far end

Above the youth periodicals, paper patterned in shiny gramophones interspersed with TE’s signatures and light bulbs serves as background for a fascinating assembly of rusty cogs and gears resembling a bicycle but containing a clock.  Stylized bulbs in contrasting tones are carved into the smooth wood shelf ends and framed prints of TE’s articles and inventions adorn the walls.


Real brick pillars lead into the Edison Workshop or you can crawl through the archways to play with the toys and cars in this charming spot outfitted with a diminutive wooden range, larder and upholstered distressed leather couch seemingly from bygone days.

There’s a large children’s media selection, attractively arranged…


Play space for toddlers

…and tiny furniture near Legos, oversize Rube Goldberg type play cubes and oak, toddler height, board book cases and bins.

The Edison memorabilia abounds, especially in the local history room downstairs, which Barbara is currently overseeing as they don’t have an archivist now. She pulled on gloves to show me this letter from TE to Miss Louise A. Hawley at the Milan Township Library dated December 12, 1913.


Edison document

The huge basement also houses two community rooms that can be used when MPL is closed.  The one for 33 people has a sleek conference table while the other meeting space holds 167 and an overhead screen setup.  Storage for the Friends, a kitchenette, Tech Services, coat racks and an ornate brass and glass display case finish the floor.

There are classes on e-resources and social media and on the website you can browse new acquisitions, read the library newsletter or scan in QR codes to link to their  Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts where you’ll find shots from events and promotions for future programs.  And, since MPL is part of OH’s famous Clevnet, patrons can download all kinds of emedia and access an enormous variety of databases.



Back upstairs, I wish I could linger in this elevated reading pocket by the little Friends’ book sale then my attention is drawn to the sketch of TE and the quote “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” dominating the teal wall above five adult computers.

A nice assortment of magazines is available near a chess set between two armchairs.  I admire the old fashioned fixtures dangling on chains shining soft beams on the adult fiction.  A pervading air of relaxation floats through satiny wood furnishings and stacks.  Traditional metal lamps and windows in the clerestory provide ample light.  Signs by genre lead customers to poetry, religion, mysteries…  The décor is cozy and classic – suggestions on shelf ends and a grandfather clock by the elevator.


Adult titles

It’s such a lovely haven for the fortunate folk of Milan!

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Genuinely Inviting Grand Island

Though we’ve stayed at highway hotels here many times on cross country trips, I never took the eight mile drive into the city proper, so hadn’t encountered the Grand Island Public Library (GIPL) until I visited while passing through Nebraska once again this spring.


Edith Abbott Memorial Library

Wow! I had been missing something big – a lovely, sprawling facility for the 50,000 lucky townsfolk.  Even the parking lot is impressive.  Vast and tastefully landscaped, the award winning bioinfiltration (aka rain) garden has budding fuchsia and lilac hued trees, xeric shrubs, native grasses and bushes.  Last fall, for a grant assisted by matching fund monies from GIPL’s Myrtle Grimminger estate, 65 volunteers managed to finish all the planting in two hours.  A Legacy of Literature, the sculpture of a grandfather reading to children, flanks one side of the protected patio at the front while mesh seating with wide arms for coffee cups beckons from the other.  A drive through book drop and window where you can pick up outreach crates are outside too.



In the expansive lobby, tall green stems and ficas are interspersed amid chair and table arrangements, busts of the Abbott sisters and donor plaques.  Jumbo pots of prairie flora frame the threshold by security gates and at the far end, meeting rooms can be divided into four configurations holding up to 150 people.

The vestibule actually has lots of functions and I lingered, listening along with the rapt audience to the mystical strains from Andean musician, Oscar Rios Pohirieth’s flute and drums, courtesy of a series sponsored by Humanities Nebraska.


Enterprising Friends grab your attention as you come in

Under the raised curved ceiling by the entry, stacks spoke off from the center and small rolling cases feature suggested and hot titles or you can purchase something from the book sale to your right.  GIPL has existed since 1884, but interestingly, both the Friends of the GIPL and the GIPL Foundation predate it and their continuing activities still enrich the lives of the 50,000 or so in their service population and the 45,000 cardholders.

Passed the circulation desk, the Art Alcove is an intriguing spot for contemplation with metallic looking Eames chairs, captivating canvases and a display of Fordite.  This substance, also called Detroit agate, is actually layers of hardened paint created by auto assembly lines then cut and polished into fascinating, often sparkly, designs.



Celine, the Youth Services Librarian, showed me behind the scenes where I noticed a staff kitchen and plenty of room for technical services and processing.  They doubled in size in the 2007 expansion and it feels so airy and spacious now.  There’s ample storage for big cardboard dinosaur shaped cars (each school got one as part of last’s year’s campaign to advertise the SRP) and spinners where they cleverly keep bulky program detritus in plastic bags so it all stays together and can easily be recreated.  Parts for more complicated events are stashed in large plastic tubs.

GIPL’s budget and IT services come from the city and they have 30 total staffers.  Now that the recession is over they are going back to more full timers and they recently extended their hours until nine four nights a week year round, instead of just during the school year.


Checkout terminals

Members pick up their own holds.  You can access a variety of databases from the website and download books, movies, magazines, audiobooks, music and comics.  Users stay informed via the GI Library Journal newsletter, Twitter feed and Facebook page.  The latter is splattered with happenings and GIPL Foundation announcements and adorable shots of cherubs at pajama storytimes and having a blast meeting firemen and Eddie the comfort dog.

A bright baby zone has a rocking snail and colorful cubbyhole book carts by a cheery yellow wall.  Playthings are everywhere, but the blocks, dollhouses and model towns are all on practical high sided tables so toys don’t get scattered everywhere.


Bouncy bolsters for boisterous babies

The juvenile area has all sorts of imaginative touches.  A glowing poster of Snoopy perched on his doghouse was fashioned from bottle caps for a recycling themed event.  A poster board trunk decorated by butterfly shaped leaves looms over one miniature park bench and a massive plush moose lolls on another.  Towers of huge cubes spell out READ and offer seating on top and primary hued paintings and wooden games on some sides.  Circle cutouts dot other squares – if you’re small enough, the cushions inside make the perfect hiding place.

Large stuffed bears laze under a display shelf sharing a column with an info screen.  GIPL puts on an annual Bear Fair with Bearobics and bear tales and ER nurses who come in and check the health of youngster’s teddy bears (teaching tots about nutrition in the process).


Tiny toddler tables

Dragons appear at the top of the castle puppet theater at one end of the storytime spot while a rabbit princess seems to be imprisoned in a turret at the other end of the room.  Banners from fairytales hang from the walls and a pile of red double pillows ingeniously pop up so wee ones can lean back while listening.


Resources for guardians

Juniors’ watercolors deck the glass panes near a wooden house with a kid sized kitchen to inspire budding chefs.  Headphones hang by listening stations and long easels make it easy to draw or assemble jigsaw puzzles.  A small space with cushy couches and a blue and red number rug to crawl on lets parents get away from the general hubbub.

Giant busy boards with car seats and beads on wires, vibrant dinosaurs, and racetrack spreads amuse adolescents.  Laminated images of Winnie the Pooh, Peanuts, Peter Rabbit and Curious George at the front of each bin lead you right to your favorite picture books and a separate case holds the oversize books.  Banners, leaf kites and balloons dangle from the ceiling and they have a wide assortment of Spanish items.


Imaginative furnishings in Kid’s

Infants love lapsits, and youths have fun at BookBop with music and dance, gatherings for homeschooled and Spanish kids, crafts and movie matinees.  Plans for the Summer Reading Program kick off in May include life size board games, bounce houses, a concert and a bike rodeo.  It should be well attended as last year’s SRP had 300 boys and girls.

Prime Time Family Reading provides a structured six week reading program where participants have a meal and learn about critical thinking.  It’s especially good for Spanish speaking parents as it gives them a chance to practice their English.


Tons of A/V items by Reference

Windows in the clerestory shine natural light onto the stacks and a kiosk promotes the convenience of Playaways.  Twelve PCs are available in a lab and flower bouquets dot the tables holding the 15 public stations.  Along one wall, machines satisfy all your copying, printing and scanning needs.  Four small conference rooms as well as several big tables give groups a place to study together.

Around each corner I find little reading nooks with plaid chairs or conversation pits circling artistic arrangements of branches or a tantalizing weeping willow sculpture (cordoned off since people can’t resist playing with this valuable piece and it’s already sustained damage).


Welcoming place for new residents

The multicultural section showcases dazzling Latin handicrafts and has a framed mélange of bookmarks children created from drawings, dreams and memories of the countries where they were born.  Some talented soul used needlework to reproduce these charming pieces on fabric.  The result hangs by an array of flags of the world and a mariachi’s sombrero above the Spanish materials and pamphlets.

Grand Island’s population is quite diverse.  Somalians, Sudanese, Hispanics and Vietnamese are a few of the many nationalities working in the meatpacking industry here, so the collection has Arabic, Spanish and Vietnamese texts.  Along with these languages, a placard announces “sign language spoken here.”

Large print has rockers and upholstered hassocks and lamps for gentle direct illumination.


Unwind and put your feet up in the Senior Lounge

In the middle of the library, the Reference section has low racks topped with bronzes and globes.  At the friendly Help Desk, fluorescent words encourage you to grow, hope, inspire and excite.  A carousel crowned by a red umbrella puts a positive spin on the weather with the slogan “April showers bring more reading hours.”  Nearby recommendations are identified by a “Pass the tissues please – books that will make you cry” sign while a heap of luggage under a post with arrows pointing to world destinations highlights travel guides.


Celine in Teen

Friends can chat in the Teen YA Zone’s booths or surf the net on one of the eight desktops.  Chill out on the couch facing the big screen TV and watch a flick using the wireless headphones, or browse the New Teen Books, graphic novels, music CD’s, DVD’s, audios, and magazines selected specifically for your age range.  Join the Super Heroes Reading Club, anime group or the Minecraft Club or go to Teen Tech Week during spring break.

Original artwork is everywhere.  I love this coverlet which appears to be composed of silk screened squares of adolescent’s sketches.


Corner of a quilt

GIPL has wifi and you can print wirelessly.  Customers can book a librarian for reference help, tech training and reading advice or attend English and Spanish computer classes on finding a job, learning the web, genealogy, Overdrive and social networking. Adults have poet and author lectures, their own storytimes, book clubs, Zentangle art demonstrations and cinema nights.  For the Adult Summer Reading program, a native will talk about Indonesia and prepare regional dishes.

Employees make deliveries to the home bound and child and elder care centers and host booths at schools and community events.


Roberta A. Lawrey Heritage Room

Near the Literacy Niche you can find out about your roots in the Abbott Sisters Research Center which covers local history and genealogy.

I spoke with patron Richard Ross who said he loves the library and finds it relaxing and enjoyable coming here.  Like me he is really impressed with it.  He thinks it’s the best he’s ever been to in Nebraska – much better than the one in his home town.


Richard at the YA banquettes

Kudos to Grand Island for realizing how vital the library is in bringing inhabitants together and for supplying them with the necessary resources to fulfill that role.

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Hospitable and Knowledgeable Hong Kong


A bit of Kowloon at right and a portion of Hong Kong to the left from the famous Star Ferry

Despite the inordinate number of skyscrapers clinging to its shores, three quarters of this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China is undeveloped precipitous pinnacles and seemingly unlimited parks and hiking trails.  Hong Kong (HK) Island across the harbor and its quirky Soho neighborhood and massive Victoria Peak are fabulous, but Kowloon and the New Territories at the tip of the peninsula adjoining the south coast of mainland China, along with HK’s 200 plus islets, have many of the best attractions.  A steep temple path is adorned by ten thousand buddhas, the Chi Lin Nunnery and Gardens takes your breath away, and Lantau’s incredibly long left angle cable car, that passes over ocean and mountains on its way to Po Lin Monastery, is an engineering feat.

Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui Public Library (TST) is the closest institution to the ferry, one component of HK’s wonderful public transportation network.


Since it was just one kilometer from our hotel, I walked to the lovely Concordia Plaza by the HK Science Museum and the HK Museum of History. Surrounded by brick sidewalks bordered by ferns and shrubs, the black marble with gold metal inlay edifice has a definite Asian flair.  I entered passed the royal blue and lilac book drop via the wheelchair ramp instead of the outdoor escalator leading up to the first floor of TST.

TST’s hours are ten to seven o’clock Monday through Wednesday and Friday (Hong Kong Public Libraries (HKPL) staggers hours so it’s easy to find an open library), and as it was right after Chinese New Year’s when, as at our Christmas or Thanksgiving, many businesses close for days at a time, Judy and I weren’t able to meet until my last day.



We spoke in Chidren’s which serves infants to twelve year olds and is furnished with framed posters and multihued stools and tables for tiny tots.  It’s painted light pink and the guides above the matching shelves in shades of salmon and aquamarine are interspersed among potted plants that also top the adult stacks.  Stylized scenes and characters from the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and other fairy tales decorate walls and hang from the ceiling.  A carpeted two tiered bench, great for listeners at Saturday storytimes, wraps around the sides.

HKPL has 68 permanent locations and twelve bookmobiles and a collection of over 14 million pieces.  Regional studies volumes can be accessed at the six major buildings.  Hong Kong Central is the leading one and has a lecture theater, gallery and six subject departments as well as toy and young adult libraries.  It’s the legal depository for HK and for big international organizations and has a variety of new technologies and digital capabilities.



A colorful geometric pattern is splashed over the main desk abutting a juvenile display case plastered in stickers.  Bright yellow rubber Braille trails lead the visually impaired through the space.

Occupying one level, the pristine carpeted place has plentiful overhead signage.  Opened in 1996, it’s one of the small-sized premises of this massive system (two of the four Yau Tsim Mong quarter ones are district institutions and are much larger and Kowloon Public Library, less than two miles away, is a major library), so most of their patrons live nearby and they get a few tourists.

Panes behind the intriguing checkout stations overlook the Children Library.


TST has a reference section, periodicals, DVD, CD’s audiobooks and some German and Italian texts, but most titles are in Cantonese.  Cards are free for residents and you can take out eight items or 16 older magazines for up to a fortnight and return to any of the facilities, but you pay a fee to transfer materials from another site.  Even visitors can become members if they pay a $130 HK deposit (about $17 US) for each unit borrowed.


Fiction and nonfiction

There’s wifi, three public terminals and about 500 square meters (@ 5400 square feet).  Most of the ten workers here are full time.


Vertical blinds cover the glass facing the entry and a bulletin board announces upcoming happenings and important reminders.

Like much of TST the security gates are a pretty pastel and two huge black vases filled with flowers stand sentry on either side of the automatic doors.


To the foyer

HKPL arranges reading programs and loads of exhibitions of photography, HK historical sites, ink painting, agricultural, health and societal issues…  Many of them move among the various locales.  They also strive to promote literary arts with awards, competitions and the annual HK Literature Festival.  Offerings include workshops, poetry writing contests, author events, book clubs and classes on the internet, catalog and e-resources.

A tiled lobby has more foliage, a recycling bin, plastic bags for wet umbrellas, and two spots and a banner for notices about TST and community activities.


It leads to the exit (whose handle is disinfected four times a day) for an outdoor balcony with benches that look onto the trees, pocket gardens and intricate balustrades of the corner below (ingenious barriers that stop you from jaywalking are common in this part of the city).


Because HKPL is very concerned about privacy it has a strict no photo-taking policy, so I’m grateful to them for allowing me to take (under supervision) these shots.

The website is available in Chinese and English and you can renew (a generous five times) and reserve (up to eight things at $2.50 HK a pop) online or ask questions by email, retrieve information from a selection of databases and download journals, videos, and books.  Electronic repositories hold a smorgasbord of wisdom and experiences ranging from the Kowloon-Canton Railway, HK art and artists, HK music and oral histories, old newspapers and language learning.


Past and present come together on Kowloon’s Signal Hill

HKPL is a beneficial and essential ingredient to this magnificent area!

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Gracious Charm in Grand Cayman


George Town Library’s (GTL) front is designated a “building of historic interest” and is bordered by towering palms and foliage.  Across from a peace memorial and plaza with tropical trees, a fountain and a bronze sculpture of a dinghy, it’s set in a verdant locale near the law courts and Truman Bodden Law School.  The white stucco and timber edifice has been closed since 2009 when the sleek three story steel structure attached to its rear opened, but it’s scheduled to reopen quite soon.

A cobbled walk leads to the entry where the elevator whisked me up to Director Ramona Melody’s spiffy third floor office.


Ms. Ramona in her pretty office

We chatted for a while and I was surprised to learn she’s a Nebraskan by birth but has lived in Grand Cayman for 20 years.  At GTL since 2013, she’s in charge of the six locations (one even has a boat in the middle of it!) that comprise the Cayman Islands Public Libraries Service (CIPLS).  Five branches benefit Grand Cayman’s 53,000 or so citizens, but the sixth is about 90 miles away on Cayman Brac which has, along with its close neighbor, Little Cayman, some 3000 residents (the latter just has a book exchange not managed by them).  All have been renovated fairly recently and their collections updated to make them more appealing to patrons.


Great for teaching a class

Ramona showed me around this level where a conference room seats 35.

She told me the eighteen employees are wonderful – very easy to work with and such nice people.  Five of them are having the tuition at Cayman Islands Civil Service College paid for by the government and will get associate’s degrees in public administration specializing in libraries.  Some schools have no librarians on staff so, in addition to their in-house tasks, CIPLS personnel help them out.


Reference tomes await the rest of the texts

They’re switching things around a bit.  A stunning curved desk has already been installed in anticipation of reference coming up here and many of the titles can be checked out.

It’s very attractive with veneer planks and a lovely arched meeting spot where light streams in from high windows and a lamp dangles from a burnished oak crossbeam.


Mr. Stanley

So we could get into some of the locked zones, Ramona called up Mr. Stanley, the security guard.  From sultry Goa in India, he ensures customers have cards (minors don’t need them if unaccompanied by a guardian).  Membership is $5 per year and under 18’s get cards for free.  You can take out ten items at once and the courier between premises means things can be returned anywhere.

The juvenile sector closes at five so workers have a chance to make sure no children are left behind at the six o’clock closing time – a very good idea as I remember staying late on several nights with forgotten tots anxiously expecting parents.


Adolescent’s alcove

While the place is beautiful, I’d love to see the old section when it’s finished.  Construction crews were putting in carpet tiles, but we got a chance to poke around.  The ceiling is just marvelous!  Shipwright Captain Rayal Bodden was the architect and he designed the roof so you’re looking up at a ship’s hull instead of walking on it.  The ends of the hammer beams are adorned by shields of important United Kingdom learning institutions.  It’s really sturdy and they’ve had no problems since it was finished in 1939, though boards have been replaced occasionally.

Service started here in 1920 with an annual government funded budget of 40 pounds for a subscription library.  Originally it was in a room above the old jail, but by 1937 work started on a larger facility.  When the doors opened in 1940, it was heavily stocked with materials from England’s Ranfurly Library.  Lady Ranfurly, the colonial governor’s spouse, also sought out used volumes from far and wide to send to the literature starved British Overseas Territory.  In 1980 CIPLS got its first trained librarian manager.


What a gleaming and unique way to cap this architectural gem

Ramona’s mission is to have a solid succession plan and open the new (old) room which in her vision will turn the establishment into even more of a cultural center with local authors, exhibits on the Caymans, tourist information and histories where visitors can find out about the island’s fascinating past.  It’s amazing how many wordsmiths have called the Caymans home – nearly 100 authors live here now and Ramona sets aside money to promote local history and writing.  She’s received some one of a kind donations of older books from natives, but ideally CIPLS will carry six copies of each title.

The public was solicited for suggestions and opinions about what they wanted for the space and to fill in details and tell stories about the old library.  Once done, it’ll be perfect for adults who want to read or study quietly.


Library Assistants Ms. Emily and Mr. Mikhail at Circulation

I met more of the team downstairs by this polished granite counter.  Mikhail, who has a bachelor’s in English, started in 2013 and showed me the rest of the place.  He informed me that many expatriates live here and that they have DVDs, CDs, audiobooks and a wide assortment of items on the Caymans.  I saw spaces for new books, biographies and oversize titles as well as appealing lavender carts, a bulletin board with CIPLS notices and business flyers, and a wire rack holding brochures about safety and legal rights.

Huge portholes allow views onto the street outside.


An opening emphasizing a nautical heritage

Ramona mentioned the Friends of the Library group is helping with the renovation and she’s hoping to be able to do some great stuff with a teen area.

The government supports them well and CIPLS recently acquired a smart computer table for juniors.  Kids can compete in a poster contest where winners get a Kindle as a prize in an awards ceremony.  The entries will be exhibited throughout the first two floors of GTL.


For the smaller set

Hardy blond furniture in Children’s can take a lot of wear and tear.  A colorful strip featuring flags of the world is under cutout multi-hued hearts and a little map surrounded by nationally costumed ethnic figures.  Short rows contain easy and picture books.

There’s a small selection of Spanish titles for all ages plus YA materials and juvenile reference.  Youngsters participate in the summer reading program and a spring fair where you can share your favorite read through a storyboard and dress up like one of the character while presenting.


Adorable ladybug display case

Weekdays between three and five, adults are encouraged to go upstairs to leave their eight internet stations free for students, as there are only four more in youth.  Plus people can still plug into the ether via laptop or wifi.


Fiction and the stacks

Shiny cable and chrome railings are on the steps leading up to Adult’s on the second story where cushy pale green chairs and couches and well lit shelves invite you to escape the sun and relax with a good read.  Books with green crosses indicate religious content.

Helpful Deanna sits with the blue volumes full of island gazettes and local magazines from the seventies behind the information services desk.


Ms. Deanna is guardian of the documents

So the individual facilities each have their own page, Ramona is redoing the website.  The system offers Ebsco ebooks and articles, Libratech online technology training for skill sets ranging from newbies to advanced, SIRS Discover database for K-12 and SIRS Issues Researcher for older learners.

Just two blocks from the rocky harbor GTL is easily accessible from the quaint downtown.


The shore

What a blessing to the affable inhabitants of this exquisite region!

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Keen Wisdom in Key West


Southernmost city in the contiguous US from the naval air station

Despite the town’s raucous reputation, the Key West headquarters branch (KWL) of the  Monroe County Public Library is a gracious pink stucco building.  A specimen of the island’s ubiquitous roosters perches on one of the low walls that hold back an array of jungle foliage and swoop up to the steps leading to a doorway framed by white hurricane shutters.


In 1892 the Key West Library Association opened the first public library in southern Florida in a Masonic Temple.  After 1896, other groups assumed responsibility – notably the Key West Woman’s Club who ran services for 44 years and obtained the money to construct the May Hill Russell Public Library, opened in 1959.

As I entered the bustling locale I noticed a stunningly vibrant mural sporting a mass of tropical flowers.  By Suzie dePoo (Zuzak), its border is composed of artfully designed donor plaques.

IMG_2118I was greeted by friendly Wendi at the light wood Circulation Desk, one of several staffers who advised me to be sure to see their famous local history department and extolled the talents of Tom, the curator.


A warm welcome and a sparkling smile from Wendi

Inside it’s a pleasant one story facility.  Pale green carpeting and flooring beneath beige walls complement the plants atop the stacks and the verdant street scene visible through the windowpanes.  Raised ceilings above higher shelves give it a light and airy feel.  Shorter racks have tempting titles and show off recommendations.

Mardi Gras beads adorning a bust and a model of a Tudor house give the décor an eclectic feel.  An abundance of handwritten or printed signs and Plexiglas pockets displaying information sheets or advertising upcoming amusements make sure you don’t miss a thing.


As we all know, Key West has had more than its fair share of famous inhabitants.  Black and white photographs above a case of brochures proudly honor some of them, including a number of Pulitzer Prize recipients.  In a different section, by the book sale and its honor box, a cart presents a map of Florida.  “YOU ARE HERE” is printed tongue in cheek at the very tip.

There’s a big choice of A/V items and separate spots for new DVDs, Blu-rays, audiobooks, nonfiction, large print…  All 14 of the public internet stations by Reference were occupied.  They have four in Children’s as well, plus wifi and teach two computer classes weekly on Macs, Androids, iCloud etc.

The system website offers homework help and Learning Express for adult and K-12 educational help, career and college prep, and tests.  You can chat, email or text in questions to AskALibrarian or download ebooks and eaudiobooks or access a selection of databases.


Patricia in her domain

When I met ebullient Patricia, the Senior Librarian for Youth Services, she was wearing her favorite I love Karma t-shirt.  Starting here at 15, she adores KWL and minored in art therapy, which is really helpful for her work, especially with minors from the Department of Juvenile Justice.  Program participants who seem really interested become part of her cadre of teens working on kids and young adult services, and she now has quite a big group.

She works with youngsters on the autism spectrum and does socialization and various gatherings for adolescents include two weekly gamer times, Smoothie Day, glitter bottle crafts, costume parties, Graphic Novels Club, and Teens, Tweens and In-between hangout/reading sessions three days a week.  The small set has art, mother/daughter and father/son sessions and toddler and preschool storytimes (some have singing and dancing).


Space for the smaller set

The kid’s area was in a state of pleasant disarray.  A chalkboard table top gets creative juices flowing and benches dotted with throw pillows, plastic boxes of toys, stuffed animals, quite a few pop up titles and a mini puppet show box draw the young ones in.  The older and younger users are separated by a partition lined by materials on both sides.

Summer reading events seemed pretty exciting.  At one, a farmer brought in rescued alligators, pythons and even a sloth!  At another, firemen talked about the job and later, Navy and Coast Guard members explained the details of theirs.  But to me, the water balloon fight sounded like the most fun🙂


YA Area

A PAC sits on top of an old card catalog and in Young Adult, posters and artwork abound and lime and chrome bar stools are perfect for chatting.  Cheery handmade penguins sit beside the terminals and a globe and chess set reside above the graphic novels while a glass cabinet contains seasonally appropriate dolls and trinkets.



Last Halloween was fantastic despite a budget of just $250 to do the haunted house.  So for Haunting in the Stacks, the Stephen King’s It themed affairthey had to be inventive.  Body bags were fashioned from garbage sacks and milk jugs, and they somehow acquired a donated skeleton and use it to make a mummy via a plastic heat gun, insulation foam, Mod Podge and paint.  Later she had a teen compose an award winning video of someone dancing with the mummy by the Christmas tree.  How convenient she studied art and what a great idea person!  Patrons were very enthusiastic, and over 300 people of all ages came.

Patricia frequently uses board games like Dungeons and Dragons or cards and video games.  This year she had a “wonderful poetry slam, 20 students read their original works. It was inspiring.”  Themed Anti Valentine’s Day, it concentrated on the tragic story of the saint ;)  Each year’s slam has a focus such as anti bullying, Love for Races, (as the populace here is very diverse)…

A popcorn maker turns a large room with a big screen and projector into a theater where attendees order from a stand just like they would at the cinema.  Storytimes are also held in this podium and easel equipped auditorium accommodating 80.  A pinball machine in a corner comes in handy for the mechanics program when they take it apart to understand the inner workings.


In addition, there’s a conference enclosure that seats 15.

Over the Adult Literacy Collection, old brass tablets remind you of the Samuel L. Golan wing, the Mary Esther Bedford Children’s Library and the natives who helped create this fine institution.  In foreign languages, there’s a fair amount of Czech, Russia, Hindi, Creole and Spanish items.

One side of Fiction is covered by a huge holder with pamphlets about the culture of the Keys, Key West and how to use Overdrive and there’s an assortment of magazines.



For me, the pièce de résistance was the fabulous brick courtyard.  Iron and wood benches are scattered around and lush fanned branches provide shade.  Grasses and trees rim the space while little emerald oases sit atop polished rocks.  An ancient burbling fountain is music to the ear and drones out the noise from cars letting you read and relax in a magical setting.


Terrific patio!

When I went, the duo Hungrytown, who, along with other shows, have been on TV’s quirky Portlandia, was scheduled to perform after hours in the palm garden and Friends of the Key West Library were sponsoring a lecture series at the nearby Key West Theater.  Customers can attend astronomy sessions including stargazing opportunities, 3D printing instruction, author talks, needlework, job fairs, documentaries and popular movies, jazz concerts, plays, Indian cooking demonstrations with free henna tattoos and Café con Libros has guest speakers on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.


Tilted tiers

KWL has three active Facebook pages with lots of great snaps and clever promotions.  A general site is for everyone  and profile snaps for the teen page are from last year’s Holi festival, that brilliant Hindu holiday of colors and love, held in the library garden since the sheriff wouldn’t let them do it on the beach.  Patricia said there are lots of Indians here so Holi was done as a family celebration.  During the day there were more adults than juniors, but at three the kids poured in to throw Rangoli powdered paints around.  Children’s shows examples of no-sew dolls done at crafts, happy boys and girls creating watercolors on newsprint or enjoying play group and eating snacks and encourages tots to come in for milk jug art and the Easter egg hunt.

I spoke to Ann, the Library Administrator, who said the Friends help out a lot, and they have two full timers in the Florida history room and about a dozen full time employees at this location.  She’s justly proud of the archives and their 18,000 images on Flickr (over 13 million hits so far).  Lots of oral histories and a Key names gazetteer can be retrieved online too.


Florida Room

Unfortunately the amazing Tom, who manages local history and writes a blog on the topic, wasn’t in.  I was a bit disappointed as I’d heard so much about him, but Patricia let me in and told me of the fascinating handwritten Santeria tome with spells, her favorite thing to show to visitors.  I saw all sorts of realia and memorabilia, ship models, eagle sculptures, lots of old photographs, documents and paintings, as well as a model of how the library looked in 1952 (Children’s and this space now occupy the new wing).


Original painting of Duval St. by famous local artist Mario Sanchez

What a marvelously stimulating place benefits the citizens of the Conch Republic!



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