Savor Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Only a half kilometer from our auberge, Bibliothèque municipal Joseph-Roumanille (BJR) in the historic center of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (SRdP) can be accessed by either of the two streets it borders.  The book return is in back of the old mansion they moved into in 1990.


But the Boulevard Gambetta entrance is more impressive.  A zebra crossing funnels you passed gigantic planters and stone pillars flanking the open gate of a wrought iron barrier protecting the gravel courtyard.  Towering sycamores, ubiquitous in the district and often turning two lane roads into peaceful green tunnels, provide shade to review the events promoted in the twin frames attached to the spears forming the railing.

Beyond this formidable fence, trees, rosebushes, the shiny leaves of flowering foliage and a graceful nude statue form a pocket sanctuary.  Tall hedges, vines and a pastel graffiti “Book” smother the stone walls, so high on one side it touches the bottom of the roof.


Formerly belonging to a family of seed merchants, it’s a splendid building.  Clay tiles top a row of fretted fenestrations and white wrought iron balconets above the lowest level’s pale blue shutters and coach lamps.

Enchanted by the architecture, I examined the exquisite molding and glass transom with stylized “B” over the heavy wood door while waiting for BJR to open.  Closed Thursdays when classes are held for schools, the library is available four days a week.


In the luminous lobby, marble accents, recent acquisitions in a sparkling vitrine and the brass and wood banister of an enticing stairway immediately impart a sense of calm.

Natives seem to have a distinct flair for design and this table’s inventive containers are typical of external adornment for sheds and shops in the vicinity.


Country chic

Rays spill in via a skylight and from the garden through enormous ancient windows.

A futuristic black and white theme dominates the space to the left where a large curved desk allows up to three people to be available for questions.


Magalie, Gaelle and Salome

I was fortunate to meet three of BJR’s four employees.  Welcoming, friendly and informative, I spoke to Magalie when she wasn’t busy helping patrons.  Though serving a small commune of less than ten thousand, they are rapidly modernizing and have wifi, two public computers and eight iPads for use in house.  The collection totals about 30,000 items and a thousand books, large print titles, movies and audios are added annually.

Everyone was interested to hear Monaco would be profiled the month before this post as Princess Caroline’s children were raised here after their father’s death and had assisted in the renovation five years ago.


Looking towards Youth

Appropriately, considering the assortment of CDs, the section sports a sound system, and across from Circulation, seats slot so neatly into this surface I thought it was just an intriguing display block.


Established in 1885, but unfunded for over a century, the bibliothèque’s paid staff started in the late eighties.  Named for renowned regional writer Joseph Roumanille who lived nearby, BJR stores community documents spanning the centuries from medieval times to the Seventies (records after this are kept at the city hall), including parchments, charters and 1000 plus items on Provence.  Historic holdings are enhanced by valuable donations from generous citizens of materials like manuscripts and probate papers.  Town council deliberations go back to 1620 and present a fascinating portrait of the daily lives of ancestors.  Genealogists consult civil and church registries that, in accordance with French law, are more than seventy five years old.


I was charmed by the juvenile area.  Awash in preppy pink and green, comfy chairs and striped cushions on little rugs invite kids to sprawl comfortably inside, or, since their retractable awnings will shield tots from the sun, drag an egg shaped cocoon out to the mini park.


Cupboards of manga, pop-ups and racks of nouveautes sit near a hanging quilt whose tiny stuffed figures seem to be celebrating the rural nature of the environs.  Elsewhere, painted lines on glass covering a picture create a three dimensional forest and appealing scenes of wood cut African animals add to the decor.

The website links to twenty livres that will change your life, new DVDs and books by category, the catalog and Cadavre Exquis (Exquisite Corpse), a participatory literary mystery generated in honor of their twentieth anniversary in 2011.


Meeting and class room

Facebook has shots of students meeting a famous illustrator, book discussions, craft sessions, group yoga, cello recitals and holiday parties.  Video of a painting workshop vies for attention amidst announcements of jazz concerts, an egg hunt, a lecture on herbs, photography contests, author appearances and a Shakespeare conference.  Playful banter between workers and customers is interspersed by advertisements for star gazing and poetry programs, toddler shows and a comics forum.  Banners publicize storytimes, films and monthly technology help classes for the internet, social media, tablets and email.

Despite the limited hours, the team obviously manages to do a lot for users.  In a joint venture with a local social center, they offer home delivery for those unable to come in, be it due to mobility issues, a temporary infirmity or an infant.


A perfect portrayal of the blinding bleached stone and azure skies of SRdP

Gaelle, the Head Bibliothécaire (librarian), took me around, pointing out Provençal style cabinets showcasing recommendations.  Some of the glowing pine stacks are so tall that the scattered footstools are a necessity to reach the higher volumes.


Shelves of graphic novels have wheels so can be pushed back to save space and by the foreign language dictionaries, colorful flags and posters of faraway lands tempt the traveler to take off.


Great spot to relax

Antique fixtures and oils of Arles mesh surprisingly well with contemporary couches and consoles of magazines.  By a PC, vivid red and purple walls complement rather than clash.

Offices are on the top floor, as is the archive which Salome unlocked so I could appreciate its stunning interior.   Casement windows reveal exterior ornamental design and gorgeous old chests cradle reference sets best perused perched on Louis XIV armchairs upholstered in velvet.


Salome spoke excellent English and we chatted for quite a while.  Potential bibliothécaires in France take a two year course for the DUT (diplôme universitaire de technologie).  They specialize in bookselling, editing, librarianship or publishing to get the professional license in information and communication.  We talked about the wonderful concept of “library as the third place” (home is first, work second…).  She reminded me how thrilling it is when you first start a job in public libraries and realize their vitality and importance to society – discovering what you thought was a quiet haven is actually a shimmering, vibrant asset to the community.


Close to the Alpilles mountain range and boasting a pleasant Mediterranean climate, SRdP is a popular tourist destination, so the library is a welcome oasis with lovely facilities for visitors feeling a bit overwhelmed by the crowds.  But for lucky residents, transplants and expats, Bibliothèque municipal Joseph-Roumanille truly is the ideal “third place.”

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Motivated Monaco


The view south along the Riviera from the spectacular Jardin Exotique

Surrounded by France and its Mediterranean port, this mountainous principality is a quick train trip from Nice, as long as the French national rail company isn’t having a grève (strike) day as it was when I visited…

Monaco maintains 78 lifts, 35 escalators and eight travelators so getting around on foot isn’t quite as exhausting as it would seem.  The station is perched in the upper part town, so we took an outdoor ascenseur to the lower level then strolled down a brick tiled pedestrian way passing abundant foliage and shady benches to Bibliothèque Louis Notari (BLN), number eight on a short rue of the same appellation.


Front door

BLN is one of three locations comprising the Médiathèque de Monaco and has the majority of the nonfiction and popular reading materials.  The Sonothèque José Notari-vidèothèque in Villa Lamartine has some periodicals about music but is dedicated to sound and vision so mainly carries DVDs and CDs.  Scholars make appointments to peruse the archives, Fonds Patrimonial at L’Helios.

Marble steps lead to a pleasant foyer housing a water cooler and a stand of brochures.  On one side, set off by potted plants, a stone and bronze plaque honors Louis Notari, the native poet, grammarian and lyricist (he wrote the words to the anthem) for whom this branch was named in 1980.


Blandine welcomed me warmly and I noticed a case of new livres and a couple of cabinets devoted to English books (there are Italian libri as well) in the spacious lobby by the main desk.

I started my tour upstairs amidst tidy offices, nonfiction and students hard at work.


The facility has a spacious modern feel with bright colors, carpet tiles and clear overhead signage.  Atop the manga shelves, back issues of comic books are neatly stored in orange Lucite boxes by the romans jeunesse for teens.


Livre de bandes dessinées

The library has wifi and public internet access and the web page links to the catalog, staff favorites, new acquisitions, video and music on demand, training, ebooks and online resources.  Their presse numérique (digital press) has 1600 titles.

On Facebook, banners promote upcoming functions or tout recent additions, and shots show singers and violinists and rapt audiences listening to jazz or garage bands.


Shelf ends feature whimsical artwork, royal portraits, Dewey posters and recycling bins and in a corner I spotted an intriguing chair.

The cheap seats 😉

I should have tried it, but like this beanbag, I was too chicken to face the possible loss of dignity.


His Serene Highness Prince Albert I started the country’s bibliothèque in 1909 and it became the national library and legal depository in 2006.

The local history in Le Fonds Régional is greatly enhanced by several important personal bequests of ephemera, correspondence, first editions etc.  Precious volumes include over 700 artists’ books (new to me, any bibliophile will find them fascinating).  Avant-garde art is a specialization and they conserve ancient manuscripts and everything printed in Monaco.  Monégasque, a dialect of Ligurian, which itself is a tongue from the Gallo-Romance arm of Romance languages, is certainly rare enough to warrant diligent preservation tactics.

Example of Monégasque

An attractive brochure maps out where to find them in the city and promotes their Ateliers (workshops), spectacles (shows), rencontres littéraires and cinéma.  Membership is 20 euro for ten years for adults and students and over sixties pay just half that fee.

The microstate is small enough that it’s not too taxing to be in three separate buildings, still there is some inconvenience, so in three to four years they will be combined.  The huge construction hole drivers see near the stadium when entering town will be a gorgeous new 50,000 square foot bibliothèque with 60,000 books, 34,000 CDs, 9000 DVDs and a secteur jeunesse! (youth room).


Albert II, Prince of Monaco and his wife, Princess Charlene, above a big TV

Currently, children’s services are managed via national education, rather than the mayor, and the only one not in a school is Bibliothèque Princesse Caroline – Ludothèque for kids over three years old.  During term time, youngsters can join for 8€ and take out three books for 15 days and go to various activities or for 16€ borrow two toys or games from the toy library.


Fanny and Ghislaine

My French is awful, but several staffers had much better English.  Fanny was a great translator and we chatted for a bit.  Though not necessary for employment, she agreed having a university degree helps and told me they each have specialties.  Among other things, she does art history.  Ghislaine handles administrative tasks and knows all about new arrivals and Nathalie, my charming email contact, is responsible for collection development and the plethora of visual paperbacks.  She also handles the catalog and technology and is implementing a new website and software in June 2018.

Despite the language barrier, everyone was so friendly and I received an awesome tote bag, informative flyers and two homegrown publications – La Presse, which introduced me to the term Mook (a hybrid of magazines and books!), and a beautiful pamphlet produced for BLN’s Centenaire highlighting some of its treasures.


Down here, the glossy floor reflects waist high consoles perfect for flipping through graphic novels.  The spiffy black and white design complements the mauve walls and muted lighting.  Like the little metal display racks offering recommendations, some are on wheels allowing for flexibility in furniture arrangements.  Bushes outside slatted windows cast a green glow and pretty silkscreens further enhance the decor.

Besides the typical audiovisual materials, the library buys opera, concert and theatre DVDs and puts on events to appease the cultural tastes of Monacans.  In fact it’s one of the few places where I’ve seen speakers above the stacks (necessary because they do have musical entertainment and show movies in the reading area).


Programs include teas and cultural cycles on different countries.  Enjoy a picnic lunch while listening to Jeff Beck’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl at the Sonothèque or marvel at La Danse Khatak par Priscilla Gauri, a classical Indian performance hosted in collaboration with Ballets de Monte-Carlo.  You can attend monthly lectures discussing famous photographers (pairing images and music selections) or conferences, films, writing seminars, author appearances or bring your whole family for a fun multigenerational craft night.


Magazines et journaux

The Médiathèque presents frequent exhibitions and owns most of the output of painter Henri Maccheroni.   It concentrates on Dada and Surrealism and has numerous journals covering these movements.

Employees teach monthly introduction to internet classes and help patrons learn to download and stream and the library also participates in joint ventures with other organizations such as the annual launch of Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco’s reading marathon (people review and vote for the winner of its literary prize).

All told, citizens can choose from close to half a million items.


Looking north – an almost vertical haven of rocky cliffs and skyscrapers

Quite impressive for a land of 500 acres and less than 40,000 people!

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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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