Singular Sisseton

As we approached tiny Sisseton, a South Dakota city of 2500 plus, the flatness abated and the ridges of the Coteau des Prairies plateau appeared in the distance.

IMG_4284Perched at the top of the town next to the Roberts County Commissioners’ domed edifice, infinite vistas await from the covered entry to Sisseton Memorial Library (SML).  The two story brick facility has a raised roof and ample storage.

Director Jayne Nieland had kindly given permission for photos, but was away on vacation when I came.


A warm welcome

Fortunately Children’s Librarian Janet Schmidt was able to give me a tour and was super helpful and informative.  Back from a seven year stint in Germany to enjoy the company of her aging parents, she’s well equipped to care for them since she was a geriatric nurse for 27 years.

When I admired the polished wood patterns on the tilted ceilings, she mentioned it was similar to the style of flooring in the town’s Stavig House Museum, a classic home Mathilda Stavig gave Sisseton alongside letters and documents pertinent to its heritage.

IMG_4303After ten years as a simple reading room, SML moved to a new Carnegie building in 1916 and the current location in 1969.  July’s fête commemorating fifty years of Maple Street occupancy saw a magician performing in a nearby park.  Not limiting themselves to the one structure, the municipal arts council has been a partner in presentations at off site venues.


The carousel contains works by David Rosenfelt, the library’s highlighted author of the month

Ingenious collaborations like that and a lot of effort and creativity result in wonderful service from a mere two cheerful employees dedicated to this small county population of just over 10,000.  How nice for Sisseton that staff can maintain a grueling schedule of long hours and be open six days and two nights in winter and five days and one night in summer!

SML has wifi, four laptops, two desktops, a standup internet, a reference computer and two juvenile stations.  The South Dakota Titles To Go Overdrive connection greatly expands on the physical books, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, braille, large print and periodical offerings via its downloadables.  For those living outside the burg, a card costs just $10 annually or $15 for the family.

Next, Janet led me into yet another charming space.

IMG_4293Martha Morris collected these special edition Jule plates (the Danish word for Christmas)  and her family donated them in her memory.   Most sneak a star in somewhere and they make for a stunning and engrossing array.  The Turner Room, after Agnes McCoy Turner, a board member for 52 years whose large gift made expansion a reality, has gorgeous doors, a grandfather clock and a large conference table.  Its cases are full of tomes that don’t circulate.  Village histories, genealogies and old plat volumes cover the MN ND SD tri state area and even some IA and NE materials as residents are very interested in their Native American and agricultural past.

Unofficially, the city is in the open Lake Traverse Reservation of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate people.  Approximately half the inhabitants are from this subdivision of the Santee Dakota.  In the mid to late 1800’s and the beginning of the 1900’s immigrants settled here and century farms are common on the outskirts accounting for many of the records, but my guide carefully opened some rare treasures.

IMG_4300Seeing an 1887 missionary penned Holy Bible in the language of the Dakota and an 1874 New Testament translated from the original Greek was quite a treat.

Passing a potted fern, a plank filled by little bronze plaques detailing memorials and bequests up to 1995, and a bulletin board of community information and flyers for Coloring Thursdays and Emporia’s MLS course, Janet pointed out a couple of Gitchie Girl narratives about a brutal deed that shocked the Midwest in the 1970’s before we headed downstairs to Youth.

IMG_4309Online, Sisseton’s library link is static so the lively Facebook page is a de facto website.  Funny memes extol SML’s virtues and posts are frequent for a two person outfit.  Shots of imaginatively arranged hot titles teeter in towers or are paired side by side.  Notices remind of the tax return deadline or solicit the public for hard to find containers needed for activities.  I chuckled at some shamelessly self-promotional comments and was pleased to see some attractive adolescent self help options for students.

Regular advertisements tout the Summer Reading Program (SRP) and an updated profile picture of graffiti on the front steps proclaims A Universe of Stories, the part of this year’s unwieldy SRP name they decided to use.  Some institutions took the Blast Off portion of the motto to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the astronauts’ moon walk, but I like how SML stresses the togetherness message of the One World, Many Stories truism.

SRP was quite successful.  So many signed up, event times were split into two by age.  Lucky participants got state fair tickets, a Build Day and an intriguing Mission Impossible challenge to fashion an alien out of a few crafting supplies augmented by any recyclables and fabulate its origin story (entries were judged and prizes awarded).  The wrap up at City Hall featured the Hanson Family Juggling act, a partially interactive show including high rise unicyclers!  Shots of tots laughing confidently while spinning disks on sticks abound.


A grant purchased foam blocks portable enough wee ones can quickly turn them into a fort

Items are shelved by category.  Pre K, levels 1, 2 and 3, Seuss and 100 award books have sections as do the popular Dr. Kitty Kat, Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew series.  Juniors plop on a beanbag or pads relishing the festive air imparted by strings of fairy lights draped over armoires and wrapping poles and the stars and moons adorning end panels.

Winnie the Pooh characters dance on walls by a collage of snaps of giggling kids.  A primary colored alphabet console of board books sits by easy reader spindles and a wheeled cart holds bins of A/V combo packs and DVDs.  Racks exhibit favorites and planet and astronomy nonfiction due to the SRP theme and low units provide recommendations.  Cushy black armchairs interspersed by shiny marble end tables lining the cinder block sides keep parents and guardians comfortable despite the scaled down furniture that dominates the space.

IMG_4321Kindergarteners through grade four have Reading Capers after school once a month.  Capers Kids wear crazy hats to a Dr. Seuss birthday party and act as role models by assisting other children.  Just trusting them with that responsibility can do so much for self-esteem and so appropriately in this age of cyber bullying, kind behavior is emphasized.  What a great idea to teach this at an impressionable age.

In fact, a new trend of painting stones then concealing them for someone else to find and hopefully pose for a selfie clutching the rock, post it on Sisseton Rocks, then keep or rehide it, inspired Kindness Rocks at SML.  Thirty youngsters joined representatives of the local group and some retired teachers in using the kindness motif to decorate rocks that would spread happiness and joy.  From the photos of boys and girls proudly displaying painted stones (and their miniature multihued fingers) Sisseton obviously has some budding artistic talent.


On the reverse it asks that you name your favorite

Elaborating on the initiative, prizes are bestowed for One Random Act of Kindness (one enterprising girl did 34!). And an illustration of two adorable cuddling cats watching a sunset posted on the library’s Facebook page was actually acrylic on granite from the Rocks movement.

For the first time this year, adults had a SRP, but tempting fare is plentiful.  Images on Facebook slyly suggest borrowing these “Fresh Reads” before getting trapped sans literary entertainment by the next snow storm precede banners for inclement weather closures.  You can attend writer talks, the One Book South Dakota group, book discussions or bring your sons and daughters to craft and storytimes.


Check out back issues of magazines

SML carries six district newpapers from Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, Watertown and even Fargo (positioned in the northeastern corner of SD, the library is much closer to the ND capitol than to Pierre) as well as two local weeklies.  Both the Sisseton Courier and the Sota Iya Ye Yapi, the official chronicle of the reservation, are available on microfilm going back to the 1900’s.

Loads of light, watering cans of blossoms and crawling ivies atop stacks and a rocking chair beckoning from a corner make the place a very pleasant spot to while away an afternoon.


100 mile views

Sisseton Memorial Library certainly adds to the reasons to live or visit this region of rolling grasslands and parks, sparkling blue lakes and forested ravines.

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Superb Superior

IMG_4148A huge one level brick and glass structure Superior Public Library (SPL), in this Wisconsin city of 27,000 nestled on the shores of the greatest of the Great Lakes, is bordered by a park full of intriguing sculptures and verdant flora.  It’s just as pleasant inside as out with a blown up photo of yesteryear underneath a giant welcome sign in the foyer.

IMG_4258Shopping baskets and a Rollator walker make browsing comfortable while a convenient kiosk dispenses public transportation tokens.

As Twin Ports, the largest freshwater harbor in the world, Superior and Duluth are also an MSA and are connected to the Atlantic via the Saint Lawrence Seaway.  Steeped in maritime traditions (the Edmund Fitzgerald left from here on its fatal voyage), Superior is the seat of Douglas County and since the two small branches in Solon Springs and Lake Nebagamon have limited hours, SPL serves the entire county population of 44,000.


Judy and Emily

I spoke to the friendly staffers at the circulation desk.  As it borders Minnesota, I shouldn’t have been surprised to encounter Emily from THPL.  Working at both systems gives her enough hours to make a full time job and she gamely posed for me yet again.  When Judy heard that my blog covers international libraries she was curious as she has a cousin who works at the Lillehammer Bibliotek, but sadly I only visited Bergen.

Founded in 1888, SPL moved to the this location, formerly a grocery store, in 1992 and renovated last year.  Bright and airy, vivid blue poles direct patrons to the proper section and consoles present tempting titles as do the “recently returned” cases (a great to cut down on the number of things to reshelve).


The saga of Superior starts by the Friends Corner on right

My eyes were immediately drawn to one of the library’s most arresting elements.  A series of thirty five panels just below the ceiling ring the interior.  Commissioned by a previous director and painted by regional artist, Carl Gawboy, they chronicle prominent points and places in the timeline of the district from the earth creation myth of the Algonquian-Ojibwe up to the current era.  Take an employee led tour of them or click to examine the works closely as copies scroll by on the home page.

The website has email reference and features a banner asking people to take a survey on how SPL should address their future needs with entry into a $25 gift certificate raffle as an incentive to participants.  The latest news advertises museum passes, movie nights, the Friends’ sale and a club for young bookworms.


A soaring corner beneath dramatic light fixtures

It’s an access point for WI’s BadgerLink, an extensive collection of interactive learning, guides, Spanish language stuff, image, video and business databases, consumer and medical advice, test and career prep, dissertations and more.  Educators download lesson plans and scavenger hunts and the electronic resources for K-12 and college students, academicians and the general public are searchable by format, subject and audience.  WI specific anas include genealogical and First Nations records and information as well as theatrical and cultural performance visuals.   WI also partners to bring e books and e audio books to residents.

A newsletter lists new acquisitions by category and I note that the library has an all ages Winter Reading Program and a variety of clubs and lectures.  Bingo, yoga, “crafternoons” and an after hours fundraiser for area artists are on offer or complete a form to make a tax deductible donation or volunteer with the Friends or the Foundation.


Local History

Open six days, SPL belongs to a consortium of institutions in northern WI that share materials through Merlin (cool acronym!).  Choose from Playaways, puppets, puzzles and the more typical fare to request up to twenty items.  Find what’s available now using the Superior only limit or if Merlin doesn’t carry it, try ILL from the WISCAT state catalog.  Two renewals are allowed and seven days to pick up holds.  Borrow DVDs and periodicals for one week and tablets, books etc. for three.

The 14 adult computers have Microsoft Office and guests get complimentary wifi for three days.

IMG_4192The muted gray and blue carpeting provides a neutral background for the eclectic seating options.   This surface has privacy partitions, embedded power strips and small trays of succulents at eye level.

IMG_4178I love the funky fun furniture – geometric tables and dangling lamps and high-backed hideaways.

IMG_4188Nifty leather handled hassocks and varnished oak trunk stools can be shifted around to form impromptu conversation pits.


The YA area was a present from the Rotary

On Facebook, reviews give accolades for personnel, contents and activities – one customer commented that SPL is one of the few things that make him feel good about paying property taxes.   Posts promote Technology and Me sessions, a writing group, Dungeons and Dragons for teens, and talks on Lyme disease, cooking jam, monarch butterflies, becoming a foster parent and zero waste living.  There are singers and choruses and hundreds of users expressed interest in listening to ghost hunters from a nearby paranormal society.  Nostalgic film clips of a homecoming celebration from the fifties and stills of the old library building mingle with ones from the rehab.

IMG_4209By Youth, coat pegs on wooden trees and abundant storage closets keep things neat and plants and plush animals adorn the stack tops.  Beyond a colonial soldier bean bag toss and bins of board books, frogs climb over the backs of tiny chairs in an alcove with a tiered stage where tots attend pajama and holiday themed storytimes.  The regularly scheduled weekly one usually has a craft and music.

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the moon walk, Blast Off! is this year’s summer reading program and is publicized by a display of astronaut food from NASA (the Army Labs in Natick, my hometown, cooks this unappealing muck and I still remember (unexpectedly tasty) freeze dried strawberries from a field trip).  Affiliated events include making flying saucers and star bracelets and fashioning, then launching, rockets.


Children’s Librarian Jennifer

Jennifer and I chatted for a bit.  SPL lends video games and the three young adult computers for ages 13-17 and five restricted juvenile ones for 13 and under have games and word processing software.

They encourage advance notice for school or day care center tours and kids have a plethora of functions from a glow in the dark dance to author appearances.  The invitation to the PBS station’s birthday party mentions cake and a special honoree, Curious George.

Tykes select from a rack of toddler toys and playthings, rearrange the dollhouse, race cars on a track, plop into a pint size fire engine to peruse a picture book or curl up on a cushion under the heavy duty paper canopies above these enticing nooks.

IMG_4222As I walk by furry foxes and fauna floating up the walls by the family facilities and a bulletin board of community happenings, I realize the library has several two and four person studies.

The meeting room holds 105 occupants and a classroom fits 25.  The conference spot and creator room (perfect for making a glittery colorful mess as it has erasable walls) both take 12.  The spaces can be rented for non financial purposes and the larger ones have screens, lecterns and kitchen access for light refreshments.  A small fee gets you a laptop, projector and mic, and government and nonprofit entities may be eligible to reserve for free.


Stand up terminals

What a delightful asset for the denizens of this important shipping zone!


Superior across the water


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Twixt Two Harbors

On a recent trip to sample the delights of Minnesota I got a chance to visit Two Harbors Public Library (THPL) on majestic Lake Superior’s famous North Shore.  Just a half hour up the iron red highway from Duluth and a few miles south of lovely Gooseberry Falls State Park, the municipality of 3800 is the county seat and as may be evident from the name, started as two separate burgs.

IMG_3994In 1896 the library began as some literature in an office corner.  It became the official city facility a year later then moved to the graceful brick Carnegie building behind the flagpole in 1909.  The 1983 addition to the right more than doubled capacity to about 8000 square feet holding over 30,000 items.

Balm for the eyes, hydrangeas, trees and a vibrant green lawn set off the locked door to the original edifice.  A sandwich board advertises what’s on the agenda for today at the newer entry where there’s sunny seating on stone slabs and a rock wall enclosing an outside terrace.  Its pavers celebrate loved ones, occasions and friendships and make a nice gift or memorial.

The glass fronted aquamarine lobby bridging the two structures sports a mural of a family appreciating the charms and fauna of lake life.  One pane is plastered in professional program posters and I notice a crate of free discards next to a meeting space that nonprofits can reserve at no cost.


Emily Thompson on left and Beny on the right

Inside it’s obviously a popular place and the bank of computers under an array of stunning photographs is fully occupied by the younger set.  As I admired some eclectic touches at Circulation like DVDs tucked in drawers resembling steamer trunks, and an Eiffel Tower in rainbow shades perched on a terminal, a souvenir from a recent 3D printing pen session, Emily and Beny greeted me warmly and confirmed THPL has four half hour and three 15 minute stations and wifi.

Director Katie Sundstrom and I chatted in her office (sadly she was camera shy that day).  She said they have seven part time employees and funding comes from the city and Lake County for their service population of about 8000.


Great display units

Although they joined Arrowhead Library System (ALS) in 1974, the local library board is responsible for governance as it is at each institution in ALS, an operation efficiently coordinating more than twenty five smaller libraries in seven counties in northeastern MN, public, school, academic and special, for purchasing power, training, grants, online resources and other tasks.

ALS also puts on wonderful entertainment for the whole family, commissioning funny characters and comical prestidigitators.  Participatory performances for the pint sized motivate the mind, mingling music, movement and magic. Customers have one card for reciprocal borrowing privileges and can return materials to any ALS location.

IMG_4076A regional foundation bought kits that give hands-on experience of STEAM concepts and ideas and THPL also lends bike locks, energy meters, cake pans and e readers.  You can even score a microscope or a telescope.

IMG_4059Or go to Kid’s and check out a literacy backpack, chess sets and board games.  Knowing the audience, the Lego books have their own section.

Picture book bins, plush toys, plastic blocks, and a puppet stage amuse tiny tykes.  A racing rug continues the track from the Brio course on the table above.  A fish tank and Lego league models distract adolescents while guardians wait on cushioned benches overlooking the verdant native grasses on the patio outside.

IMG_4060The case below two bears enjoying a fairy tale has board books, juvenile CDs and holiday titles.

Boys and girls go to stuffed animal sleepovers, author talks and storytimes at the county fair.  The end of summer reading program (SRP) party had games, crafts, and snacks and juniors got ice cream certificates, super hero masks and vied for a chance to win five grand prizes. Teens received Pokemon packs and gift cards and adults had drawings for private art lessons and puzzles.

img_4013.jpgPrints of yore and informational flyers pinned to bulletin boards line the hallway leading to the bathrooms, water fountain, copier, elevator and tax forms.  The Archive here has scrapbooks, newspapers etc. going back to the late 1800’s.

The library’s website features a book each month, new items by category and age, and a calendar with tempting treats. Poets and writer’s groups, painting classes, lectures on pollinators, and various storytimes are just a few of the options.  The page promotes electronic magazines, books and audiobooks, two teen audio downloads per week, exam proctoring, volunteerism and donations, driving test practice and Homework Help.  It links to the statewide catalog and distributes MN drug cards for significant savings on medications for the un and underinsured.  Access Chilton’s Auto Repair or Minnesota specific collections, or search a variety of research, job and genealogical databases.

IMG_4085I love the plastic bag recycling containers and the brochure listing the biggest hits each month over the last year – metal tooling and jewelry making classes, a Duluth Playhouse Children’s Theatre interactive presentation, a travelogue on a couple’s yearlong journey through the Boundary Waters, a candy making demonstration and tasting, and a juggler – also details statistics evincing THPL’s bang for the buck.

The Friends take care of all fundraising and use the SRP to benefit other local projects too.  This year the Band Shell Park’s proposed event venue will be the lucky recipient.  An architect’s rendering squats on top of a shelf near a rack of parenting pamphlets and assistive bookmarks.  Yummy creamsicle scratch and sniff cards entice patrons to the Friends book sale, or browse the permanent one in an alcove under the stairs.  Area businesses contribute so the Friends can brighten the darker months via a Winter Reading Program.

IMG_4017Up a flight, the Carnegie portion is peaceful and calm.  Muted beams from high cross hatched windows mix with the pinkish glow from old fashioned hanging lamps and tulip sconce chandeliers to illuminate the glossy dark wood trim.  Antique white radiators, clocks, cabinets, a dumbwaiter and a dictionary on a stand complement the more modern blue upholstered furniture.  A jigsaw puzzle on a table is a meditative way to pass some time.

Adult fiction, periodicals, newsletters, Playaways and books on CD are here but adult nonfiction is back downstairs.

IMG_4052Above the fireplace, an ethereal portrait framed by iron and metal flowers and frills stands out in relief.  The locomotive in Girl Reading on a Train by Tonja Sell and Nancy Miller appears to spring from the nearby bay.  Upon closer inspection, the border reveals patterns of mosaics and enamels, a bird lying on smooth washed pebbles and porcelain pieces resembling fairies.


My husband Michael perusing the stacks

THPL has a busy Facebook account.  Announcements for exhibitions, the free e version of the Mueller report, Chess tournaments, handwriting and herb garden workshops, an afternoon book club, film screenings and discussions, Scrabble and Cribbage intermingle with notifications for lectures on sustainable lifestyles, talks on rare birds and how butterflies can soar and technology help for adults.


Teens lounge on the window seat by the graphic novels, YA audio, and manga

Read “How to Speak Dolphin” to Lucy the whippet. You might both learn something!  I spot shots of dancing toddlers and ads for fluffy slime for tweens who alongside older youths produce stop motion movies using clay.  Get in some acting practice, make paper cameras or create pixel art.  One Science Friday covers the science of music and sound and a plethora of instruments appear during “Old MacDonald Had a Banjo” when musical polymath Paul plays original and classic tunes to enchant children.  Tots can fashion a cardboard car and sit in it while watching animated shorts and all ages are invited to listen to a local ukulele combo prepare for the international carnival being held at the town hall.


View of Two Harbors from one of their lush lake lapped parks

Wow, THPL offers so many fun activities!  The “Little Library by the Big Lake” is truly a huge boon to this northern community.

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Terrific Tel Aviv

Long stretches of Mediterranean coast grant a balmy climate to the 450,000 or so denizens of this young city.  Though Jaffa (Yafo), its southwestern boundary, has been inhabited since 7500 BC, Tel Aviv (TLV) was founded in 1909 so Tel Aviv-Yafo Libraries’ (TAYL) roots precede both the town and the State of Israel.

In 1886, though Jaffa had just 15,000, mostly gentile, people, the Assistance to Israel Society, aiming to aid Jewish settlers in the region, made its assemblage available in a private home in Jaffa.  Additional funding came in 1901 when it was renamed Sha’ar Zion (gate of Zion), and it moved around and grew until landing at these premises in 1977.

IMG_3866Sha’ar Zion-Beit Ariela Library  (BA), TAYL’s main facility, is a huge concrete structure flanked by appropriately enormous sculptures tempered by tropical palms and Norfolk firs.  Named after Ariela Gitter, the deceased daughter of one of its primary benefactors, Benno Gitter, it’s ideally situated between the Performing Arts Center arch and a vast plaza also sporting a museum in what is basically the White City’s hub of enlightenment.

Admiring the panels depicting people absorbed in reading at popular spots around TLV that mask the renovation, we strolled to the front door.  To the right of the patio, the gallery continues – an alley of dual purpose art loops through the scaffolding.


Miriam amidst her bibliophilic paraphernalia

We arrived early, and staff welcomed us warmly and brought coffee as we waited for Director Miriam Posner, who had kindly agreed to give me a tour.

A kitchen and offices for IT and Acquisitions surround a tiled courtyard where shadows from the crosshatching overhead play across the statues and potted plants and cool those eating lunch at the silvery metal tables.

Noting an interesting installation resembling a barren crow-speckled tree, I left my husband to relax in sun dappled splendor and went to meet Miriam.

IMG_3880Before starting here in 2010, Miriam developed educational materials and school libraries.  Her English is wonderful (as usual, any faults in translation are mine) as I knew from our advance correspondence.

TAYL has one music and 20 neighborhood sites (three more are coming soon).  During summer months, nine unmanned kiosks open 24/7 can be found in TLV’s parks, beaches and boulevards.

The system produces its own programs, and in one year held more than 1500 gatherings with over 100,000 participants, a third of those going to the 600 happenings at BA whose 107,000 square feet house both an auditorium and a function hall.

Planned as a cultural center, Miriam described the building as complicated, but said it has about seven, sometimes staggered, levels including two in the basements filled by stacks.  The public part is five floors and has nine study rooms.


Behind the scenes

The organization has about 110 workers, many part time.  In Israel, librarianship used to be a certificate issued at teacher colleges rather than an academic degree, but now two universities have information science programs.  A number of the 85 librarians at TAYL (35 at BA alone) have bachelor’s in other subjects, but the ministry requires a certain percent to have an actual MLIS.

Necessitated by the nation’s increased safety standards, reconstruction began in 2013 and should have cost 30 million NIS ($8,300,000), but, per Miriam, “spending this significant amount without making functional or aesthetic changes to the building was ruled out by the Tel-Aviv – Yafo municipality’s management, which instead chose to add some 40 million NIS more and conduct a vast renovation project, not yet finished. The library is hence adding new functions to the building such as a huge “City Salon” for locals to meet up and hang out.  An Arab influenced room within the City Salon, outfitted in divans and cushions will serve as a group meeting facility with a specially pleasant atmosphere. Another novelty will be making the edifice more visible from the street.”

IMG_3889Proceeding to the public areas, I was delighted when Miriam said I could use my camera anywhere as long as no children were there.  TAYL is too busy to be able to portray it properly sans people, and I was so impressed by this two tier section and the floor to ceiling books.

Panes overlooking the sky lit atrium and multiple windows inserted in rows of cement slabs hanging from the roof let natural sunbeams stream in.  Many teens come here to do homework on the geometric surfaces.  Free wifi is everywhere and by an arced help station, most of the hundred public computers are occupied.

Ascending to the balcony we take a gray circular staircase softened by a railing of blond oak instead of the new elevator that makes it wheelchair accessible.  A ledge for studying and more internet modules runs along the cavity formed by the soaring inner space.

IMG_3913Next was the music library, its glowing wood and crimson carpets imparting a distinct personality.  Rock, classical, pop, jazz and blues are a few of the genres of A/V offerings alongside 7000 volumes of Hebrew poetry.

IMG_3916Beyond TVs set up to watch videos of concerts, bentwood armchairs, prints of cherubic oboists and spiral steps leading to a catwalk under frosted glass are reflective of a bygone era.

The other lyrical locale, the Felicia Blumental Music Center a couple of kilometers to the west, has a youth segment, LPs, CDs, scores and operas on DVD, as well as personal effects of prominent performers, pianists, and cellists.  It has instruments too – sign up to try out an acoustic guitar.

The municipality pays employees and maintenance.  TAYL has a dedicated budget for materials, furniture, equipment, programming, professional development and marketing from the Culture Ministry but money earned for rentals etc. goes back to the municipality.

Rather than buying duplicates they attempt to have one of everything.  Most stuff is in Hebrew but there are English, Russian, Spanish, Yiddish and French titles, 180 journals in Hebrew and English and audiobooks.  One of the four branches in Jaffa, the Anna Laura Library at the Arab-Jewish Community Center, has literature and staff conversant in the language.

IMG_3907The further console has jigsaw puzzles to borrow, a rarity in the US.  BA has lots of face out displays.  Tilted tiered tables and racks on the walls tempt you to peruse more recommendations.

The system has digitized around 500,000 of their items but because of copyright issues most of them must be viewed at TAYL. Soon Beit Ariela is about to start a large-scale digitizing project together with the National Library, meant to preserve materials of the Israeli Dance Archive and the Theatre Archive, both residing at Beit Ariela and make some of these materials accessible online.

In 2008 a law made libraries free.  Cardholders are allowed five pieces for one month and two renewals.  No courier means you may need to travel to pick up or return materials, but if something is out you can request it from home.


Drippy discards

As we wend our way toward the juvenile area, the rehab is noticeable.  Ultramodern fixtures abound.  Emitting aquamarine rays, self check is obvious and porpoises frolic on a big screen above a consultation desk.

IMG_3923Youth librarian Noa gamely posed before cases of board games in her space age space.  Neon beams of rainbow hues radiate around the room.  In fact, Facebook has a video of adolescent astronauts exploring the futuristic nooks and crannies of the newly revamped department.

IMG_3924And it features festivities.  Shots of tots assembling bird’s nests and teddy bears, dressed up for Purim celebrations, watching cartoons and playing Portal 2 on computers mingle with ones from an event in a park where happy kids enjoy messy crafts, a jungle gym, giant Tic Tac Toe and obstacle course equipment.

There are storytimes for preschoolers at all sites and tweens have a robotics club.  More than 3000 people are enrolled in nineteen writing seminars for youths and adults.

Carts full of sturdy dump trucks, hard hats and baskets of Lego blocks promise tons of fun as does the Cinderella coach puppet theater.  In a poor neighborhood, a branch lends toys to infants and toddlers aged 0-3.

IMG_3944A sixteen year old fabricates these fascinating dioramas.  Miriam has a literary themed one in her office and the exhibit here has a tailor shop, garden tea, gingerbread cottage and a cozy farm kitchen.  A fantastic unicorn prances in a forest of polka dot toadstools.  Moss and lichen stand in for shrubs and red maples.  This talented teen taught a session on her hobby, Penguins and Hot Chocolate!, last winter and Facebook has pictures of youngsters proudly proffering their adorable concoctions.

A papier-mâché castle in a different vitrine comes from the beloved Lea Goldberg story about coexistence, Apartment for Rent.

Walls are decorated by oversize stickers of characters that are easily peeled off and changed as new favorites are discovered.  Monkeys swing from tree limbs, tiny hippos twirl and a flamingo cozies up to a zebra.  A bespectacled alligator lazes against a rock while his grandfather brings over an ice cream treat.  A list of books the illustrations originate from is tacked up near a transparent enclosure for joint projects with conference call capabilities so pupils can contribute remotely to the school paper or group assignment.

IMG_3931The nature spot in front of it encourages appreciation of the outdoors.  Magnifiers of all shapes and sizes let boys and girls closely examine shells, pine cones and drawers of intriguing flora and fauna.

In the middle, a pale blue partition sprouts ruby poppies and bright gold asters behind the pillows and plush animals scattered on the curved couch.  The back has compartments for suggestions and magazines.  Poofy hassocks and plastic horses provide seating options and beneath a firmament of changing colors by the former entryway for Children’s, small hands have evidently tinted a collage of Mary Poppins.



Trained supervisors and YA mentors instruct juniors on the Makerspace technology.  Furthering TAYL’s mission of inspiring independent thought and meshing the digital and physical worlds, quality software and machines let users create and edit manga and comics, logos and three-dimensional figures.


Curl up in a cutout

Unfortunately, many of the announcements on Facebook are graphic, so I can’t translate them as I have absolutely no familiarity with Hebrew apart from חי (chai or l’chaim, exclaiming “to life!”), but I see notices for biblical discussions, genealogy groups, talks on “how to write about the family and stay alive” and the history of linguistic humor, and author meet and greets.  Short biographies honor the anniversaries of the death of Shel Silverstein and Frank Baum.  Blessings and hopes for an easy fast are sent to Muslim clients for Ramadan.  Patron profiles present blurbs from families on who they are, what they do and why they love TAYL.  It advertises the poetry slam, Chanukah parties and the comfort of long hours spent on newly purchased fit balls.

Lots of people follow the page and posts elicit comments, lively dialogue and praise over the imaginative input.  Snaps proliferate of parents reading to kids, browsers sheltered by the mobile street libraries’ awnings and enjoying paperbacks on nearby loungers and a staffer’s book themed tattoos.  An invitation is extended to download the app for the new Instagram account and there are tips on how to get into BA since ingress varies as the renovation progresses.


By the study spots

Beit Ariela’s An Island in The City, a quiet space exclusively for writers, facilitates concentration.  The library is trying to strengthen literacy programs and promoting lifelong learning and reading to citizens is a major goal.

Videos galore, some boasting thousands of views, tout the jazz improvisation series, a songwriting workshop and the systems’ recent accomplishments.  Announcements of new services, calls for volunteers to help during summer vacation and job applications round out the mix.IMG_3980The Design and Visual Information Library’s plentiful purple folders carry half a million clips from periodicals, leaflets, postcards, reproductions, calendars, brochures and sales catalogs on various themes and they’ve scanned 15,000 already.

BA has many rare treasures, but sadly doesn’t have the funds to conserve them properly.  With databases and 100,000 items, the Ramban (Maimonides) Library is the second largest repository of Jewish Enlightenment literature.  The Dance Archive of Israel has slides, letters, plans, accessories, memorabilia, costume notes and scene and choreography diagrams.  Ethnic and ritual dance, studios and recitals feature in some of its 3800 videos.

The Yehuda Gabai Theatre Archive documents the early years of drama and acting in Israel going back to 1911.  Named for an important actor and founder of the Theater Museum, it has playbills and posters, sketches of backdrops, caricatures, reviews and film negatives.IMG_3962Diana, the Reference supervisor, oversees 35,000 encyclopedias, dictionaries, and compendiums and is in charge of indexing the main newspapers going back to the late 1800’s.  Office software is loaded on the terminals and there are three microfilm machines.

Furniture from a famous Zionist leader, Ahad Ha’am (aka Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg),  a prolific publisher and thinker, recreates his study.  Pocket watches, eyeglasses, diaries and family papers lie among his many possessions as well as several portraits painted by well known artists.IMG_3964We carried on towards a large chamber free for nonprofits that businesses and individuals can rent.  It’s great for meetings, class visits or lectures from experts in the arts, Judaism, cinema etc.  Hearing impaired attendees use audio enhancement headphones.

TAYL’s largest branch at Migdal Shalom has quarters for teams of entrepreneurs developing internet or tech startups plus an LGBTQ collection.  Writers have A Room of Your Own for half a year and the Music Library designates a slot just for composers.


The concrete pillars are symbolic of Brutalism, BA’s architectural style

The system was the first  in the country to have e-books, and now, as part of a consortium of 85 institutions using Overdrive, has e-audiobooks too.  They have over 900,000 units (@ 400,000 at BA alone) and annual circulation of more than 400,000 to the 35,000 members.

Online there are podcasts, blogs and YouTube segments.  A separate url of searchable holdings by location links to guides, keys and a plethora of databases (the 17 allowing remote access include an enrichment site for little ones and the Haifa Index of contemporary articles in Hebrew).

The National Library is still digitizing old newspapers so people come here for the physical copies.   TAYL developed an index of the local paper which was incorporated into Ex Libris’ line of products so can be used from anywhere in the world.


Tel Aviv from Jaffa

As we walked through canyons of bold and beautiful Bauhaus behemoths to the seaside promenade a mile away, I marveled at TAYL’s intellectual resources and how it enhances the lives of city dwellers.  I am extremely thankful to Miriam for taking the time and effort to reveal the library’s magic to me.

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Appreciating Athens

Κεντρική Δημοτική Βιβλιοθήκη Οργανισμού Πολιτισμού Αθλητισμού και Νεολαίας Δήμου Αθηναίων (Ο.Π.Α.Ν.Δ.Α.), or translated, the  Central Municipal Library of the Athletics and Youth Culture Organization of the Municipality of Athens (OPADDA), is conveniently just steps from Larissa subway stop, next to the capital’s main railway station.

Serving the Attica region (basically the city’s metropolitan expanse), it is one of the oldest libraries in Greece.  Started by Mayor Petrakis in 1835 it opened to the public in 1936.

IMG_3785Occupying various quarters, in 1986 OPADDA added professional librarians and moved over by the new Town Hall in Kotzia Square, settling into its previous home, a neoclassical structure that sadly was badly damaged during the horrific 1999 earthquake. Closed until renovation of its new premises was completed in autumn 2002, they’ve been at this yellow stucco edifice on Domokou Street ever since.  Automation of the catalog commenced in 2002 and in the summer of 2018 they started using openABEKT.

Potted plants line the marble steps leading to a bust on a plinth by the entrance.  Upholstered maroon chairs beckon you into the lobby where Hellenic flags evince civic pride and huge maps of the environs cover the walls.

IMG_3820By the circulation desk, Anastasia, my contact and guide, greeted us warmly and brought refreshments and chocolates.

We chatted a bit then settled my husband and moved into a room presided over by welcoming Rania.  Framed scenes of yesteryear complement modern blond wood furnishings.  Glass cabinets atop cupboards’ sliding doors hold treasures from bygone eras and we perused postcards and sepias and centuries old tomes on the cradle of Western Civilization.  IMG_3795The library’s archives contain government documents going back to 1833, journals starting in 1834, oversize volumes of bound newspapers dating from 1863, and numerous photographs and historical items plus repositories donated by or acquired from some of Athen’s prominent citizens.

OPADDA has more than 55,000 titles squeezed into numerous alcoves off a long corridor decorated by old card catalogs, antique vitrines and cases of ancient texts.  Since there really isn’t space for it all, rolling stacks come into play.

IMG_3811This formidable collection extends an already huge service population.  Athens proper has about 670,000 but between three to four million of Greece’s nearly eleven million inhabitants live in the surrounding urbanity.  The nation’s largest city has five branches, two for adults and three for children, and is the biggest system after Thessalonika and Veria in the north.

Though workers are paid directly by the municipality, the library has a materials budget of about 40,000 euro annually.  Open weekdays, it’s free to all Attica residents. A phone bill gets you a card and permission to borrow two books for two weeks and renew for one.  If you’re naughty and return things late, borrowing privileges are suspended for a bit.  People living nearby, e.g. in the port of Piraeus, renowned launching point for island bound ferries, can also use OPADDA, but have their own small facilities too.

IMG_3801OPADDA has two reading enclosures for diligent scholars that double as cinemas or venues for lecture series as well as a room of stackable chairs set up for giving talks or teaching classes.  Wifi is available and there are OPACs specifically for their holdings.

Anastasia introduced me to Fay who likewise spoke excellent English (any faults in translation are mine).  They said it takes four years of college to become a librarian.  Fay had studied Greek culture but for the last year has staffed a bookmobile.


From left, Anastasia and Fay

Each year, UNESCO chooses a World Book Capital somewhere across the planet and Athens was chosen in 2018, so Veria kindly lent a van to OPADDA from May 2018 through April 2019.  When I went, Fay was finishing up what must have been a fascinating tenure.  A section of the Facebook page is peppered in pictures of the truck in various locations around town, often taken at creative angles, or of kids devouring books in a quiet corner of the vehicle.  The schedule is posted as are updates on its position and impromptu advice from impatient clients when Fay mentions traffic problems.

IMG_3809We continued our tour through the cheery red racks of history, literature, psychology, philosophy and the arts, passing notices pinned on a bulletin board of happenings, festivals and museum exhibits in the vicinity, and a flyer about IFLA being held in Athens this August.

At the security station I talked to Michael, graciously on loan from the Athens military.

IMG_3836Facebook lists well attended presentations and a featured video reveals small imaginatively costumed figures excitedly whirling to what looks like a large Oom-pah or marching band while balloons gaily float over the dancer’s heads.  There are poetic paeans from positive patrons, shots of soulful sopranos accompanied by guitarists and bathed in violet rays and advertisements for Open University, recent acquisitions and free ebooks.  Amusements include legends in song and an accordion player for Holy Sunday (Easter).

Unfortunately many of the announcements are graphic and while I admired the stunning posters, I can’t translate them as I have absolutely no knowledge of the alphabet except for π, but judging from snaps of children wearing paper hats stirring gooey concoctions and relishing party treats, a good time was had by all.

IMG_3818Beyond nonfiction, pleasant diffused light from window blinds and dangling spherical paper shades illuminates popular items on tilted displays and lying face up on large tables so customers can browse easily.

OPADDA has author appearances, illustration and writing workshops, and celebrates Greek heritage with realia exhibits and seniors’ oral histories that evoke remembrances of things past.

Despite being a library for grownups, in 2012 they designated a little space for adolescents.  In 2017, it expanded and moved into the building across this lovely courtyard.

IMG_3838A  wheelchair ramp accesses a foyer where youngsters drape coats on rainbow hued poles and pegs.  This site is for ages six and up and is next door to a kindergarten.

A Toddler’s Library for infants to age five is a few miles away and has a cafe, bassinet outside playground and a private nursing nook.  Opened in February 2016, it’s the first of its kind in Greece and the Facebook page has banners for learning sessions for preschoolers, special story tellers and speeches on visual literacy targeted to caretakers.  

Here, you’ll also find accommodations for parents.  Comfy seats are positioned by a highchair for babies, there’s a cooker to boil milk for bottles and the family toilet thoughtfully has wipes and hand sanitizer by the diaper changing spot.

img_3859-e1557958300623.jpgOn the sides of the shelves a key indicates the meaning of the colored dots on the book spines.  A chalkboard easel, globe, plastic abacus, crates of toys and an electric keyboard provide distractions to occupy tots as older siblings look over the picture books and YA titles.  The library has some English, Russian and French stuff and welcomes class visits.  Personnel often collaborate with schools and design programs for the Ministry of Education which sends them to K-12s all over Attica.

The adorable area brings nature inside.  Silvery vines climb the walls and mobiles resembling puffy clouds hang from the ceiling.   Storytimes and movies are frequent functions and I glimpsed piles of pads in tints of lime, forest and pale green.

IMG_3842Kids make marine dioramas out of recycled objects, fashion pretty tissue floral arrangements and craft masks from construction paper.  Facebook has calls for volunteers to help during summer reading campaigns and pictures showing crowds of children listening raptly to fairy tales, drawing and painting.  Boys and girls attend dramas acted out by the theater group or participate in their own plays. 

The complex even has a two tiered stage that hosts numerous events for youths.

IMG_3847We really enjoyed speaking to Anastasia and Fay who could not have been nicer.  They gave me a great booklet (published by the cultural authority) called Heritage Walks in Athens and Fay, a climber who’s been to the States to scale peaks in Wyoming and around the West, imparted some tips for our upcoming journey to the clifftop monasteries at Meteora.


The Parthenon and the Aegean Sea from Mount Lycabettus, one of Athen’s seven hills

As in their rave reviews on social media, I found enthusiastic, happy, friendly employees who (to quote a user) “seem to love what they do” and are ready and eager to assist.  What a wonderful asset for this delightful and enchanting land!


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Noteworthy Nashville

Tennessee’ s most populous burg spreads out from the vast green swath of Bicentennial Mall’s cherry treed paths, the Capitol perched atop Victory Park hill and Legislative Plaza’s war memorials.

Anchoring one end of this surprising downtown oasis a few blocks west of the Cumberland River, the Nashville Public Library (NPL) is a graceful edifice dwarfed by hulking monoliths.

301Despite the perspective, the Main Library (ML) is actually enormous at three stories and 300,000 square foot.

On the brass reliefs of the front door panels a turtle basks on a rock in a stream and four opossum joeys cling to mama.  In the lobby, I immediately notice the gorgeous marble floors and accents – a luxurious setting for the comment box and racks of free papers, tax forms and bus schedules.  Kiosks let you renew a vehicle registration or pay the County Clerk and long bags for wet umbrellas prevent slips on the slick surfaces.

Beyond the foyer’s informational stands, I find Check Out, holds pickup and Returns and helpful Angela Smith.

017The parking garage taking up a good chunk of the ground level has four electric car charging stations and they validate.  A big conference center has a caterer’s kitchen and is rented out for weddings and parties and ML has a 230 capacity auditorium and a couple of smaller meeting spaces with projectors, mics, lecterns and A/V equipment plus study spots fitting several people.

A side entrance leads to gleaming wood shelves in Popular Fiction.  Light streams in through tall arched windows as you sink into a cushy leather armchair.  Computers on a low task desk run along one wall and in Media, CDs are sorted by category.  Inevitably I’m drawn to the extensive bluegrass and country selections, divided by letter as there are so many choices.  Phantasmagorical images of iconic tourist sights remind you this is home to the Grand Ole Opry.

093Up the first exquisite double staircase, I met friendly security guard Rochelle Lillard on the balcony circling the mezzanine.  Soft light from the atrium and sconces illuminate an exhibit of intriguing outdoor mosaic installations and related ephemera.

085The system supports adult and preschool literacy, has volunteer and internship opportunities and ILL.  Open 24/7 via Southeast’s vending machine, some sites have seed exchanges or lend iPads and laptops for in-house use.

In partnership with local organizations, the Foundation’s Salon@615 presents bestselling authors – in May, Melinda Gates made an appearance.  Friday Flicks and ML’s Indiana Jones Marathon are some examples of the many movie nights.

The website has a module for immigrants to practice English or prepare for citizenship and loads of downloadables – BoomBox and freegal for music, and for books, videos and more, Hoopla, OverDrive…  And of course, they have the usual digitized recordings and photographs, cemetery, obituary and newspaper indexes, and language, encyclopedic, health, consumer, periodical, investment, bilingual and business databases, but I’d never heard of BookFLIX, ODILO, SPEAKABOOS and TechBoomers or ArtistWorks, Gale’s Religion and Philosophy, Career Transitions or Colorín Colorado, a national multimedia project for ESL instructors and learners.

099The Nashville Room by the defunct Nashville Banner’s annals has a hushed atmosphere of bygone times.  Program specialist Dixie Johnson told me NPL hopes to have a women’s suffrage section by 2020 and despite abundant built in outlets, PCs, overhead lighting in the stacks and other modern touches, the quality furniture seems pulled from a 1930’s steno pool and cases of delicate ceramic flowers and celebrations of the YWCA recall the past.

Administration, Tennesseana, Genealogy and TN authors are here as are assemblages of memorabilia from Ryman Auditorium (one of the city’s most famous music venues) and Metro Archives’ shots from the 2010 Flood and the TN Titans stadium construction.  Four Writer’s Rooms are available on an annual basis to regional writers through an application and selection process.

The Civil Rights Room has a blowup of Freedom Rider and Congressman John Lewis’ arrest record and his prescient quote If not us, then who? If not now, then when? is emblazoned above Ionic columns.  Plush plugs make it possible to peruse the curved timeline of the era shown on the bottom right.

119The only free Civil Rights museum in the country, it has videos on a loop, oral histories and manuscripts concerning the desegregation of schools and public places.  Nashville has four historically black colleges (and another 20 close by), so students and graduates had a huge influence on the movement.

Staff give general guided tours and specific ones, e.g. of the Wilson Collection’s rare and handsomely illustrated tomes.  There are educational experiences and NPL reaches into the community on class visits.

In just one month, adults are taught French, folkloric dance, drawing and origami.  Play Jelly Bean Bingo, try out virtual reality headsets or go to crochet circles and cooking, Anime, adventure, Nintendo, Scrabble or English conversation clubs.  Bellevue has Spring Carnival for older adolescents while Richland hosts the Nashville Ballet.  Crafts include Mexican Coiled Fabric Baskets, birdhouses, henna tattoos and Guatemalan Worry Dolls.  Listen to talks on Life Skills, DIY, internet privacy, Sasquatch and Cezanne.  Attend a pop concert and a travel chat or dream discussions, Zumba, qigong, yoga, meditation and mindfulness.  At Be Well at NPL, seniors get safety tips, bone strengthening exercises and budgetary advice.


Impressive egress

Around since the late nineteenth century, in 1901 NPL’s predecessor became free and, under the condition Nashville would contribute $10,000 per year for upkeep, Andrew Carnegie donated $100,000 for a new building that opened in 1904.  In 1912 he gave $50,000 for two more locales, one the “Negro Branch Library” which closed in 1954 and is the source of the Carnegie headstone over one of the Margaret Ann and Walter Robinson Courtyard’s second level exits.


Surrounding a burbling fountain, stone benches and planters, foliage and brass sculptures impart a marvelous Italianate feel

Steadily growing, except for a Depression era lull, a bookmobile and a teen section came along in 1947 and by 1950 NPL had “quietly desegregated.”  The Friends started in 1957 and in 1962 the library debuted the first ever reading room at a municipal airport and its own FM radio channel, WPLN.  Continuing expansion, in June 2001 they opened this award winning stunner as their headquarters.

Online links to blogs, podcasts, Twitter, flickr, Instagram and Pinterest accounts and YouTube lectures.  Facebook sports rave reviews from adoring fans, announcements for groundbreaking ceremonies and sourdough sessions, promotions for e-materials and invitations for patron input when planning new facilities.

The most recent yearly statistics for ML and the 20 branches report a whopping 3,261,586 visits, a circulation of 5,648,749 and 2,214,447 items in seventeen tongues.

Entering Children’s, tot high slats hold tempting titles and futuristic neon fixtures present a subtly changing light show.

149Guarded by a lintel of rough hewn logs, lavishly costumed marionettes stuff vitrines in an alcove by the theater where kids discover the joys of puppeteering.  The Puppet Truck brings Wishing Chair Productions’ magic to the rest of Davidson County.

175Tables and a TV on wheels can be pushed into arrangements for viewing or studying in The Alley, for tweens only.  Youth’s skyscraper theme is echoed in backlit silhouettes rotating a rainbow of hues by the weird one legged stools for the internet terminals.

141NPL offers toddlers a variety of storytimes and has book groups for all ages and interests.  Dogs encourage confidence in early readers

In the program area, floor boards are patterned in alternating stains and a large mobile of headless beings floats among the stars above.  Toys and translucent tiles, crayons and a mini stage mix with Dr. Seuss prints.  Seating is on foam cubes or teardrop, eggplant and puppy shapes and a climbing wall (!) uses yellow and red alphabet handholds and a bright blue mattress protects falls.

161Primary colored architectural openings nestled in the shelves let younger kids scoot under them playing hide and seek .

Everywhere I look there’s a new delight guaranteed to please even the crankiest client.  Fantastical chairs line a hall, arms provided by wings or bent twigs.  In each corner smiling snaggle-toothed dinosaurs and similar giant creatures greet you cheerfully.

203End panels are tilted so suggestions stay put and the two tier water cooler has a bottle filler.  The book drop is a tiny version of ML and dioramas, carousels, and myriad distractions catch the eye.

Conveniently close to the courtyard where little ones can let off steam, caretakers also stick them in an incredible jungle gym of bridges, high-rises and subterranean passages.

207Youngsters have fun at Frankenart, Lego contests and Ukelele Jam or fashioning Japanese fish kites.  For kindergarten to eighth grade educators, curriculum kits come in over a hundred subjects from science to geography to humanities.

The third floor’s wainscoting is topped by wallpaper of scenes and maps of old Nashville.  The federal depository’s government documents are up here as well as Magazines so you can grab something to enjoy under the splendor of the bucolic tableaus on the magnificent Great Reading Room’s ceiling.

230Its glowing blue sides evoke a warm spring day and engraved bronze landscapes hovering above reference volumes and chandeliers add to the elegance.

Flexibility is paramount in the less formal Commons, where red armchairs on wheels can be grouped to suit.

In the Jobs Lab, individualized attention lets you complete applications and access resources to suss out the perfect occupation.  A large computer training zone has 22 terminals and a teaching unit.  Classes range from the basics to introductory coding.

244Outside, a labyrinth is imprinted on the carpet by oversize chess pieces and Connect 4.

Nearby, Library Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has arrays on baby signing and the latest assistive technology for consumers who use braille embossers, conversion software, magnifiers, scanners, big keyboards, adjustable furniture and amplifiers or borrow a wheelchair and get real time captioning or ASL interpreters for events.

276By the manga in Teens, a bulletin board of superheros touts Women in Comics.  Triangular tables overlook the patio below and competitors on consoles slouch on a couch, focused on the action on a shared monitor.  It’s extremely busy, so it’s hard to take pictures but manager Luke Herbst and Audry kindly agree to pose for me.

252I spy a cool wall calendar that lets you easily swap out a day’s schedule and see what’s going on at a glance.  Paintings done by talented YA’s hang by barstools clustered around little tables and customers love Fandom Fest 2019, the video game tournaments and plays targeted to teen tastes.

266Sign up and get certified or use Studio NPL’s innovative electronics for soldering, robotics, textile work, circuitry, 3D printing and graphic design during drop ins.

Rebecca Stone, the Lead Mentor-Program Supervisor, told me mentors rotate so each day brings a different expert.  Singers, songwriters, rappers, drummers and guitarists lay down tracks and besides the recording capabilities, the department creates chances for participants to perform in front of live audiences.

The space is packed with people using the new fangled equipment in the MakerSuite.  A pegboard is full of power tools and aspiring directors have a real boom camera.  An indoor garden is fed by blue drip lines and cables drop from above for extra power where it’s needed.  Posters advertise graphic design and photography workshops.  Wow, what an exciting place!

Back in the corridor I pass a display for the Transgender Day of Visibility before I hit the long rows in nonfiction and fine arts…

294… and a small quiet area boasting a peaceful view of the nature in the courtyard below.

My thanks to Kayla and Andrea Fanta in Marketing and Communications for getting me permission to take photographs in this charming and amazing asset for the residents of the Athens of the South.

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Handsome Huntsville

Nicknamed Rocket City for its long association with space flight, Huntsville is home to Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (HMCPL).  The oldest Alabama institution, it started prior to statehood in 1818 in a tiny shack and moved around a lot before a Carnegie building opened in 1916.  Currently it boasts AL’s highest circulation, lending around two and a half million items and getting about a million visits annually from the 360,000 or so residents.

From a distance it’s easy to see why the headquarters, Downtown Huntsville Library (DHL), inspires the moniker “Fort Book”, but as you approach, the hulking monolith sheds the foreboding aura and extends welcoming arms.  Pretty passageways studded by mini replicas of the peaked roof shelter customers from foul weather.


The First Baptist Church’s steeple on the right looks like it was designed by NASA

Intriguing indentations, arches and outcrops dot the structure and offer unexpected slices of sky.  Up close the brick facade reveals subtle patterns and designs.  Plopped on a bench covered in glazed tiles highlighting fauna of Alabama, I admire the flora flanking the well manicured entrance.  A bus stop, ample parking, a ramp, curvy bike stands and a drive-through bookdrop ease access.


FOL shop

In the lobby, racks of pamphlets and a big screen TV remind you of available services.  To the left, the large Friends store is raising money for summer reading, employee scholarships etc.   Join them or contact the volunteer coordinator to donate your time in myriad ways.

On the right I pass vitrines touting an upcoming ballet performance and displaying aggregations of turtles and shells before reaching a meeting hall…

350…where I browse the mini exhibition of compelling artwork for sale on the walls.

Holds pickup is just inside next to New Science Fiction.  Staffers eagerly give assistance at the enormous desk dominating the main floor and overhead signs make getting around a breeze.

Share favorites on the patron picks shelf or acquire a second tongue using ESL and foreign language materials from the international area.   Nearby a security and equipment rental station has wheelchairs for those who tire quickly.  HMCPL has a darkroom and numerous study and conference spaces, some with A/V equipment, can be reserved for public events or for a fee rented for private functions or business use.

374Unique touches catch the eye.  A roped off array of easels under the stairs creates a pocket art show that must be appreciated as you head to the long CD and media racks.  A little sculpture of a building is fashioned from torn out pages.

And as an employee delightedly told me, the bell still rings on this cycle, which is used for deliveries and ridden in parades.

396In just one month the library puts on a plethora of programs.  There are movie and trivia nights, poetry readings and book signings.  Older folks are taught brain building exercises and attend explanatory sessions on Medicare.  Play Mah Jongg, Scrabble, and Bingo or stretch the mind at Chess League.  Practice Tai Chi and meditation or get answers to technical questions at Open Lab.  Workforce Development Lab helps you complete job applications.  Learn tatting, sewing, crafts and how to paint silk scarves.

Or just bask in the serenity of DHL.  Review the recommendations propped on end panels and enjoy the graphic novel and comic area and the action posters above the stacks.

384The website links to variously themed book groups, a blog, the catalog, newsletter, calendar, and job ads.  Download audio and ebooks, movies and music or get online homework help.  Encyclopedias and reference and periodical databases give career advice and have information on gardening, the military, grants, car repairs, test preparation, etc.

Follow them on Instagram and Twitter.  Facebook announces a plant swap, and a chance to make Valentine’s cards, or for your Teen or Tween to go to a Halloween Masquerade Ball.  The Lunacy (pun intended) Movie Series honors the anniversary of the moon landing.  Films about exploring our satellite as well as ones about encountering imaginary extraterrestrials finish with discussions led by a critic while another series is dedicated to screening mockumentaries.  Bring a sandwich to a Lunch and Learn on financial planning or HMCPL’s databases or bring dinner to a documentary.


Note the neat steeple also seen in the shot of DHL above

Posts trumpet grants for STEM programming, new items, concerts and an appearance by the state’s poet laureate.  Some honor donors and the retiring deputy director or introduce recent hires and a list of favorite romances.  Photos abound of workshops on vision boards, a local author fair, lectures on ham radios, diabetes, and media literacy and fake news or summer reading fun in a park including a giant slide, hula hoops, tug of war, face painting and bubble blowing.

Banners herald scavenger hunts, family board game days and for each night of Hanukkah, a suggested title connected to the Jewish faith.

Contributions from the Archives on Throwback Thursdays show ancient scrapbooks, past versions of the town and presidential visits from their files and from Downtown’s Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, new additions.  Videos of swing dancers, the “Beauty From Brokenness” mosaic installation and sneak peaks of new construction are click bait.

429Youth has not one but two fishtanks.  Oversize cobalt crayons provide direction through child sized flower shaped tables and primary hued wooden chairs, toys, doll homes and racetracks.  Kids’ drawings cover the pillars by an expansive storytime alcove and I spy a small garden just outside.

Tots have lots of options.  Marc Brown headlines a book festival.  Marvel at dog tricks or dress up for a costume party.  Holidays bring Easter egg hunts, scary tales and live music and at Christmas you can fashion ornaments, penguin socks and gingerbread houses, or take a picture with Santa.

There are art talks, and Chinese language and culture, Spanish bilingual and Rockin’ Storytimes, Kids and Kites Saturday, and Everyone Can Code Day.  Homeschoolers have get togethers and a robotics club.  Color, write, create origami animals or play cards at An Hour Unplugged or head to Bailey Cove for Toss Up Tuesday featuring STEAM topics for elementary students.

436A column in YA doubles as a chalkboard to pass on reading tips and tall barstools by the plate glass windows are perfect for hanging.  Teens have Zombie Prom and the system puts on Rocket City Nerdcon for gamers and fantasy and sci fi fans who love cosplay.   Makerspace! creative design software, 3D printing and CNC machining equipment is demonstrated at Studio Orientation.

Out and about with a bookmobile, a temporary popup at a shopping mall and outreach to elders, nursing homes and the juvenile detention center, staff sent a contingent to a walk-a-thon and one locale sponsored a 5K challenge.  A Puppet Troupe promotes awareness of HMCPL as do librarians preparing toddlers for literacy via Ready Readers storytimes at Head Starts and pre K’s.

472Back at DHL, the Family Computer Center has attractions to amuse youngsters and internet for the parents.

The second level has views of the Appalachian foothills and for the public, lockers, loads of meeting spots, and a free phone and six vending machines in the snack lounge by magazines.

479The business, technology training and computer centers are so well used I couldn’t take photos but there are over fifty public consoles.  Classes range from the basics to Google Drive and Apps.

Opened in 1987, DHL’s three stories and 123,000 square feet contain the administrative and technical offices and more than a half million items and seat over 900 people.  Per Director of Public Relations, Melanie Thornton, it’s the busiest of the twelve sites.  But HMCPL is expanding and their foundation is currently running a capital campaign to quadruple the size of the branch serving South Huntsville.  The new Madison facility has a cozy fireplace for quiet reading and hosts a sunset cinema on the outdoor patio.  Pet adoption and a therapy feline are part of a Caturday celebration and they bring seniors together for card tournaments.


Illuminated by a skylight

The Tax Assessor, a few government departments and the Madison County Law Library share the atrium’s third floor and desks ringing the void overlook the action below.

483Cases present Huntsville history.  The Heritage Room and Jane Knight Lowe Gallery are up here too.  In Archives Rare Books, microfilm drawers line the walls amid historical portraits and busts.  A lonely typewriter adds to the atmosphere.

They teach genealogy classes and the digital collection has historical, rare and fragile things, e.g. Civil War letters and diaries, church records and more than 25,000 images plus an index of the obituaries from old newspapers.


Soaring ceiling

The system has personal shoppers and lends e-Readers preloaded with titles from categories like YA lit, romance, urban fiction, knitting, mystery…  For a nominal charge ILL materials or check out a 4G wi-fi hotspot for up to ten devices.  Parents borrow Playaway Views mobile video players to occupy offspring on tedious car journeys.

Conveniently located, HMCPL is a short stroll from a path along Indian Creek Canal that bisects Big Spring Park.  Passing ponds, fountains, Muscovy ducks and a red lacquered bridge the trail leads to a spurting mossy rock and the vibrant downtown.

525Inhabitants of the region are so fortunate to have HMCPL.  What a great asset!

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