Stellar Stockholm

Kulturhuset Stadsteatern (KS) is public and mostly a library and has enough of an affiliation with Stockholm Public Library (SPL) to share its catalog and be listed on the website.  Patrons can borrow or return items here or at any SPL locations via the SPL card. However, their budget evidently comes from the city theater part of the government, so the offerings differ from what we’d usually encounter.

LGBTQA books

LGBTQA books

Concentrating on art, music, performing and dance and their history and theory, there are no general adult fiction, reference, science or cooking volumes.  Materials are in Swedish and English only, but they do carry “world” books on Africa, the Middle East… and titles on how to write (and how to read).

Conveniently situated near Central Station, KS is accessible by bus, tram, train, metro and car parking isn’t far.  It’s in a seven story mall occupied by the National Museum of Design, cafes, shops, offices, stages and auditoriums (which can be rented for conferences or gatherings).  Visiting its six separate “libraries” makes for an amazing experience.

Rosalie has a four year library degree equivalent to a master’s

Rosalie’s four year library degree is equivalent to a master’s

In Bibliotek Plattan, the furniture is eclectic – a round ebony settee here, a lacquered black rack resembling a tilted ladder there.  Long wavy sheets of metal prop up books on the wide windowsill overlooking the skate park in the busy sunken square outside.  Suspended plants add more color above a cherry and chrome chair by a small plastic table and harlequin shaded lamp.  Pristine white stacks and glossy red signs and PAC stations contrast with the gray of the cement pillars and unfinished ceiling and multi-hued prayer flags run through it all.

Informative Fredrik, who worked in bookstores (and so has met John Irving) for 30 years before coming here, elaborated on the collection development policy.  They buy funny authors, popular paperbacks, current political thought and sociology texts (e.g. covering domestic abuse), classic science fiction, fantasy and horror as well as many new and cult titles.  Nonfiction and fiction intermingle and they personally select items to make sure they will be enticing and relevant.

One of the numerous performance spaces

One of the numerous performance spaces

Passing a stage and a wall covered by framed foreign film posters, I stepped down into an adjacent section where after choosing an architecture, design, photography or fashion publication, customers lounge on an upholstered bench encircling the lowest part of the room.

Back out in the lobby of the building, curvy seats and barstools let you relax while using the wifi or one of the eight public computers.  There is so much here, it’s a bit overwhelming though I found out later they give guided tours.  If I’d taken one, I may not have missed the Lava Bibliotek & Verkstad which opens later in the day to suit the schedules of its target audience – those aged 14 to 25.

Along with reading material it has silk screening equipment, sewing machines, a 3D printer and a recording studio.  Attending a workshop will let you make the most of these amenities, or you can take a DJ’ing class, meet iconoclasts at Abnormal Wednesdays, speak to the artist responsible for the Boob exhibition, create fanzines, study scripts, be coached by music industry experts who can help your band or song get noticed, listen to poets and photographers or discuss your favorite titles at social teas with refreshments.

Inventive chaises

Cheery chaises

The second story is a treat for the eyes with vivid decor and three disparate facilities.

Daniel is usually in music and film and also the master’s degree.

Daniel is usually in music and film and also has the master’s degree.

Serieteket is the only library in the country that specializes in comics.  They host exhibitions and the annual HP Lovecraft Festival in October.

Inventive displays

Inventive presentation

Displays outside draw people in.

Masses of Manga

Masses of Manga

A black and white anime page covers one wall and Lucite frames hold close-ups of classic characters.

The cushioned Plexiglas egg swinging from a chain is almost soundproof as you nestle in to watch the bustling downtown.

Put on a show!

Put on a show!

Further along, costumes hang from a bar and the green screen generates any set design you can visualize. The platform is surrounded by short flights of stairs leading to tiered cinema style rows accommodating tall backed scarlet couches above cunningly positioned book cases.

Tween dream

Tween dream

And then I came to what was, for me, the pièce de résistance – TioTretton.  Oh how I would have loved to come here when I was an adolescent.  Though you must be 10-13 year old to enter, it wasn’t open yet, so Maria sweetly allowed me in to take some pictures and I was flabbergasted and delighted by this incredible space.

Everything is a dramatic black, red and white.  Books dangle like mobiles over an enormous beanbag Y and towering nine level shelves are chock full of graphic novels.  A ruby roof dotted by fairy lights overhangs a gigantic cushy multilevel structure that’s perfect for perching on while you relax with friends.  Vast brushed silver surfaces jut out over curved cases and craft supplies and beads await you at tables under a sign spelling LOOM in embroidery thread.

Every preteen should learn how to cook

Every preteen should learn to cook

But perhaps the best spots are those in the four constructions by the plate glass windows.  Resembling cookie cutters that you sit inside of, they allow for two people to have a private conversation in their own little world, or you could take the ladder to the uppermost seat and eavesdrop from on high while overlooking the street below.  This area also affords opportunities to practice animation, compose and record songs and make movies.

Bake in the kitchen, borrow home appliances like waffle makers and blenders or participate in various programs on Manga and drawing villains, meet a dog or hear from an author.  When you want to leave, staff will walk you safely to the subway.

KS lets you check out your own items and pick up holds and they’ll bring stuff in for a nominal fee.


Bibliotek Film & Musik is near YA and has a multitude of CDs and DVDs.  In a listening corner by an assortment of LPs, turntables and headphone are interspersed amidst the couches.  In another area by a wide array of performing arts periodicals, suggested reads are projected on the industrial walls and short divans form a circle.  Play the electric piano, unwind at a lunchtime concert, go to a documentary screening or lecture, or subscribe to the Twitter feed which has announcements of events and new materials.

Jungle gym like contraption

Jungle gym like contraption

I took the escalator up, passing by the Marionetteatern and one of several galleries on my way to the fourth floor Rum för Barn, for tots nine and under.

First time I’ve ever seen a queue to get into a library – it’s so popular they have a stop light that you can see from the plaza that indicates how bad the traffic jam is and they’ll give you a ticket to save your spot in line if you want to eat a picnic lunch or play in the sliding area.

An enchanting place, fulfilling children’s fantasies, it was so packed with rambunctious kids that unfortunately, I couldn’t take many pictures.


So you won’t see the charming summer room – its sides festooned with wildflowers and warm weather scenes and in the center, a mini rowboat where the little ones can escape winter’s grasp and drift in a sun soaked reverie.

At friendly Minnie’s behest, I removed my shoes (the better for crawling in the caves, cubby holes and clubhouses) before venturing into this labyrinth of ramps, levels, hideaways and steps to nowhere.  Looking up, a child peers down at me from an unexpected opening while at my feet another wriggles into a tunnel.

Tools for budding Van Goghs

Tools for budding Van Goghs

There’s an art studio too and professionals help supervise painting sessions.  Youngsters can go to parties, movies, Dance and Music Fridays, make jewelry and listen to writers.  At the English and Swedish storytimes, real actors often provide narration.

Cool inserts with kid's paintings

Cool inserts with kid’s artwork

Kulturhuset Stadsteatern has free dance instruction for YA’s and new adults and brings in choreographers for interviews and lets the public watch dancers rehearse.  There are recitals and shows, public debates and good quality movies.  Author talks range from Jonathan Franzen and Margaret Drabble to Peter Hoeg and Ian McEwan.

What a wonderful way to expand the definition of the term “public library” – I wish every municipality had the funds to construct a culture house as wildly imaginative as this one.

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Historic Helsinki

Finland may be known for avant-garde architecture, but they also appreciate beauty from the past.  Despite the modern constructions and sculptures in the lovely parks, magnificent neoclassical edifices dominate the tree shrouded boulevards and squares, and an open air museum presents folk dwellings.

I reached a prime example of this preservationist attitude after a quick stroll along a shady, traffic free subterranean walkway.

Rikhardinkatu Bibliothek


Rikhardinkadun kirjasto (RK), part of Helsingin kaupunginkirjasto (Helsinki City Library or HCL) is, with the possible exception of Denmark, the oldest public library in any Nordic country.  Finished in 1881 and opened in 1882, the monies to build it and the land were donated by Helsinki License Company.  By the 1920’s, it was already overcrowded, so a level was added.  After several other changes over the years, the original design was unrecognizable, but a historical renovation in the eighties brought it back to its splendid initial style.

Eyecatching pattern

Eye catching pattern

In the lobby, board games and an urn of water (welcome on this warm morning) share the self check island beneath striking modern artwork.  As I enter, helpful Topi greets me from the circulation desk.

Friendly Topi on the front lines

Topi at the front lines

RK specializes in art literature and the basement has an Artotek where people pay a monthly fee to rent or own the paintings, along with a storytelling room.  The branch houses the British Collection and Swedish publications and has wifi and 19 computers for the public.

They allow a whopping 100 loans, 50 holds, and five renewals.  Things that are in great demand go out for two weeks while other stuff gets four.  Since there are “3.4 million… – The books do not run out” ;)  At some locations, users pick up their own holds and this convenience should be at RK soon.

Snowy by the picture books

Snowy and the kiddy lit

In the noisy (as it should be) youth area, all racks are on wheels and intriguing benches, barstools and beanbags provide seating.  Wood puzzles top toddler tables and plush animals spill out of wicker baskets.  A miniature trunk full of football related paperbacks is sure to please, as is a cabinet holding a few of Miss Longstocking’s adventures propped above a doll size version of ramshackle Villavillekula, replete with models of Tommy, Annika, Pippi, and the full grown horse she likes to carry around.

Corner in Children's

Corner in Children’s

Adolescents attend puppet theater, Spanish and Italian story hours, Harry Potter Day, Anime Sundays and summer reading bingo or go see choirs, concerts and bands for all ages.  Multicultural and tambourine are just two of the clubs and groups practice Finnish, Swedish, Russian and English.  Adults can hear panel discussions or learn Italian cooking.  Girls become skilled street dancers and Polish families have playtimes.

At every turn the decor delights.  Soft illumination bars hover atop pretty polished stacks.  In a rounded section, a curved case hugs the wall and fascinating elongated wooden figures of reading women perch on shelves.

Main level

Stunning surroundings

HCL has home delivery, 37 locations, plus ten premises in hospitals.  Moomin, ubiquitous indigenous literary characters beloved by citizens, prance around the second bookmobile which is (as they say, tongue planted firmly in cheek) ” …presumably the only Moomin illustrated mobile library in the world.”  The vehicle, named Skidi, is for the younger set and has schools on its route.  The first one, Stara has older users, but both got to neighborhoods without facilities.

Three Makerspaces locales have tools to check out and machines for crafters and hobbyists.  Use instruments and record in the music studios and if you want, add it to the collection.  At the Urban Workshop you can create buttons, badges and magnets or physical objects from models on the 3D printer and scanner.  Access the graphic, video and media workstations, shoot for up to a fortnight with their digital camera or use the format converter.  A laptop doctor will solve any software or hardware problems free of charge and someone will assist you with the more exotic technology.

Fin de siècle grandeur

Fin de siècle opulence

The website is HelMet (Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries) and covers the public institutions of Helsinki, and the suburbs of Espoo, Kauniainen, and Vantaa.  This cooperative awards a yearly literature prize to a native author.  It’s a little confusing as it’s a different entity than HCL alone, but it shows they really know how to collaborate and maximize the potential for their funding.

Online, patrons can download ebooks, emags, eaudiobooks, evideos and emusic, study the local lingo and five other languages, or search a variety of databases.

Pretty paintings

Pretty paintings

Ceilings get lower as I go higher.  I found cool dark spaces tinted with shades of maroon.  Cushions on window sills supply charming places to lounge and lookout over the roofs of Helsinki.  In a large chamber, an iron spindle offers long poles for newspapers and magazines are neatly tucked behind slats on glowing caramel fixtures.

Illuminated objects

Illuminated objects

Glass displays feature sketch pads from the eighties, fanciful paper cuttings and artists’ books.

The music department has pictures advertising Charlie Parker sessions and a Tiffany lamp close to an antique radio.  Nearby, I spied an old card catalog near a quill and inkwell.

On a table, gloves let you review Russian Olympic posters without damaging them.

Elegant ascent

Elegant ascent

Up the gorgeous black and white spiral staircase I count four balcony levels…

Fine fenestrations

Fine fenestrations

…and pass more marvelous areas seemingly preserved from yesteryear.  Vivid ruched drapes cover tall arched panes framed with colorful molding.

For students, Rikhardinkatu has a quiet reading hall and study enclosure.  The meeting room has fixed IT equipment, fits around 30 and is free for cultural or nonprofit organizations while businesses are charged a small fee.  There’s a book exchange and exhibition space.  Brochures come in multiple tongues and they lend video games.

Sunny serenity

Sunny serenity

Innovation is clearly the watchword for the system.  This May, they set up service in a metro car., the “Ask” portal, publishes questions which are answered by logged in residents as well as reference.  You can practice piano or stitch on the sewing machine.  Other branches have group work rooms for professionals, stages and in one, customers relax ensconced in EnergyPods outfitted with headphones.

But perhaps the biggest innovation has not yet been realized.  The municipality approved a new central facility in January.  By 2017, according to the conceptual slideshow, it will be enormous, spacious, airy and bright, situated on its own campus overlooking a magnificent fountain and other construction wonders.  With indoor trees, huge super high tech screens and the best extreme Finnish design, it’s definitely an institution for the space age.

To stay cutting edge, HCL wisely keeps its ear tuned to advances in the field worldwide and hosts several hundred foreigners per year.  Staffers participate in exchange programs, join associations, travel as visiting lecturers, and take study tours.

Friendly Ulla

Upbeat Ulla

I encountered informative Ulla, a reference librarian with a bachelors in sociology and political science who got a certificate for libraries after two years of study.  She said that surprisingly, HCL is arranged via their own Helsinki Classification, which is based on Dewey.  The city controls the budget and five hundred employees work to make the lives of the 600,000 inhabitants better.

Pleasant surprises everywhere

Looking down on it all

On the top floor, a breeze floats in through open double windows, the atrium lets in sunbeams and scattered plants produce a light and airy feel.  A ledge along the gallery rim has suggestions on top of cubbies holding more titles.  It’s such a graceful structure – thank goodness it was restored to its natural state.

Finns value their libraries highly and it’s always been a popular outing.  After touring the kirjasto it’s easy to see why.  About the only thing missing is one of the ever-present saunas.

Harbor - Helsingin Tuomiokirkk is the white domed building on the right and Uspenskin Katedraali is by the ferris wheel on the left

The harbor from Helsingin Tuomiokirkk to Uspenskin Katedraali

What an awesome addition to the community here in handsome Helsinki.

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Tireless Tallinn

From the ramparts to the Baltic

From the ramparts to the sea

The history of this charming capital on the Gulf of Finland has often been one of occupation. Controlled over the years by Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Germany and the Soviets, in 1991, after the Singing Revolution in the late 1980’s, it finally regained independence.  Originally established in 1907 under a rather long name that includes the magic words “free of cost”, Tallinna Keskraamatukogu has tenaciously sought to enlighten citizens ever since.

I strolled along tree lined boulevards passed the lovely curved façade of the Estonia Kontserdisaal and reached the busy Tallinn Central Library (TCL) in about ten minutes.  It’s a large pink edifice on a cobbled walk studded with stone sculptures resembling birds.  Adjacent to a college and tennis courts, a pub in the basement has a sunny patio giving onto a pocket park.

Fabulous foyer

Fabulous foyer

Ascending the steps, two rails seemed a bit steep for a wheelchair until I realized they must be for bikes or scooters.  Off the lobby, a desk manned by accommodating Alvar, a cube with a big screen and pedestals for flyers and brochures present information and list regional happenings.  A concert hall has a baby grand piano under a detailed oil of Old Town and lies conveniently close to the Music Department staffed by warm and welcoming Marje.

Marje in music

Marje in Media

The newest section, audiovisual opened in 2002 and has a theater that fits 25 and places to play Xbox or watch DVDs.  It covers musicians and most musical genres and materials come in a wide range of formats – LPs, 45’s and videotapes lie amidst the plastic jewel boxes and audios on CD.  Personnel arrange concerts and recitals and band battles.

The impressive toilets are in a tiled chamber with lockers, gleaming mahogany benches and a huge mirror at one end.

Stately water closets

Everything is elegant – even the loo!

TCL has been at this stately 19th century confection for 95 years.  Adults have been able to borrow books since 1923, even during the German and Russian periods, when censorship was rife and much was destroyed.  Service to younger residents started in the thirties – before that, students needed written permission from teachers.

CD storage

CD storage

Estonian literature is here too and about half the 120,000 titles are fiction.  Most foreign texts are kept in a storefront locale about a kilometer away in the bottom of an apartment house where the 133,000 volumes for all ages come in Russian, German, French, English…, though other locations do have selections of books in other languages.

The organization has 17 branches, all with free wifi and software laden computers.  A bookmobile called Katarina Jee carries about 4000 items and TCL has around 1 million pieces (over half in Estonian with Russian being the most common of foreign tongues).


Cheery spot for tots

In Children’s, Kairi, who studies Estonian theology, was very sweet and forthcoming.  The three workstations have educational software and they lend video games.  Kids can attend puzzle days, quiz bowls, treasure hunts, handicraft workshops, writer and therapy dog visits or vote for their favorite reads in prize competitions.

Kairi in Kid's

Kairi in Kid’s

Rag dolls perch on blond wood furniture and sleek white A/V packed cases while cubbies in a cabinet hold stuffed animals and movies.   Clef notes and origami birds on strings dangle around checkout, colorful letters provide obvious signage above vivid beanbags chairs and tall windows let in fresh air.  Jigsaws live in durable plastic pockets and a boy sits on a little cushioned bench with built in storage underneath.

Cozy spot

Cozy corner

A padded alcove lets preschoolers amuse themselves in a safe environment.

Wedgewood be warned

Wedgwood shades

Moving on passed handsome paintings and antique municipal maps, I came to pale shelves in a relaxing space painted a crisp blue and white.

The systems lends recreational gear like Paradox Community Library (see comments), and has pulse monitors, walking poles, Twister, barbells, skipping ropes, badminton sets and balls for several sports, though the pumps that inflate them don’t go out. You can shoot Novuss too.  Distantly related to pool, it’s a popular Baltic pastime.

If you are in the library you can access databases of general and academic journals, Oxford music and art and ESTLEX for the country’s laws.  Seemingly, national institutions have been busy digitizing everything they can lay their hands on, so the internet site links to many free, specifically Estonian, resources ranging from compilations of folk tales, historic periodicals and the ESTONICA encyclopedia to collections of biographies, films, statistics, literature and museums.

Conversation pit on landing

Conversation pit on landing

Upstairs, this facility has 13 PCs and for when they are all taken, an express terminal.  Besides the public stations, laptops are available for the physically disabled at the location where the computer room is on the second floor and there’s no elevator.

TCL’s web page and a glossy promotional handout are also available in English and Russian.  Their catalog, ESTER, is a collaborative effort of 15 Estonian libraries.

Refernce person Liina

Liina by the closed stacks

In Reference, Liina was quite friendly and helpful.  You can take out up to 30 items for 21 days and they lend out ereaders which have titles in Finnish and German as well as languages more commonly spoken here.  It’s possible to reserve nonfiction but you have to go pick it up at its home and and you can use your Estonian ID card to access the library.

TCL has lots of stuff for patrons trying to learn Estonian and besides the Ask a Librarian email service, members can connect via Skype weekdays from 12-6.  They offer home delivery, and the website has a newsletter, an online diary from the music area, virtual exhibits and library tours.

What a ceiling

Pretty parapets

Restored to its former grandeur around the millennium, after a catastrophic fire in the eighties, the building is simply stunning.

Oliver led me from this wonderful reading sanctuary, up a spiral staircase, to the archives where there are 1,800 old books and 2,100 copies, the majority in Estonian, but some in German and other vernaculars, plus newspapers from yesteryear (I missed a more current News Room downstairs as it has a different entrance).


Rõdusaal has things published from 1802-1940

The library surveys users to determine where needs lie and if customers are satisfied by their performance.  Training options include computers and smartphone for seniors in Russian and the local lingo, exercise classes, and employment and resume assistance.

There are gatherings for Esperanto and Tolkien’s Elvish speakers, poetry slams, Bastille Day celebrations in French, literary festivals, author nights and city walks.  Working with youngsters and planning events are just a couple of the existing volunteer opportunities.

TCL encourages inhabitants to learn about bibliographical studies and has a scholarship set aside for that purpose.

Reading room

Overlooking opulence

Perhaps because it’s a magnificent backdrop, TV shows occasionally shoot episodes in the library – one was a whodunit featuring an (imaginary) murder of an employee.

The system has an RSS feed and an active Facebook page that advertises new hardbacks and ebooks, book sales and the summer reading program, job openings and exhibits from singers, photographers, painters and the leatherworkers union, along with loads of snaps of young and old people happily enjoying reading and chess matches on a sunny terrace.

Tallin Central Library

Tallinn Central Library

Truly, TCL Director Kaie Holm has a talented team here in terrific Tallinn!

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Beneficent Bergen

Bergen Public Library

Bergen Public Library

Conveniently situated in a shopping precinct by the train and bus stations, Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek (BOB) is flanked by benches and enormous blossom filled planters.

Once inside the three story edifice, the new cafe invites you to grab one of the suggestions featured on various cubes and in the irregular openings of a cupboard and plop down for a hot drink and a snack.

Amalie’s Hage (last name Skram, she was a famous Norwegian feminist - Hage means garden)

Amalie’s Hage (last name Skram, she was a famous Norwegian feminist – Hage means garden)

At the main desk Karen Marie greeted me warmly in her excellent English and patiently answered my questions.

The system was established in 1872 and is the second largest in Norway.  There are six branches plus two in local jails, but this historic location was built in 1917.  BOB employs subject specialists and some have library degrees.  Customers pick up their own reserves, a conveyor belt processes returns and helpful signage abounds.

It’s a very busy facility so many of the microsuede chairs, ovoid tables and comfortable couches with flat arm rests for writing were occupied.

Matias at your service!

Matias at your service!

In the basement computer center I met friendly and informative Matias.  You can rent the auditorium here and there is a free meeting room available on a first come first served basis.

By another entry, state of the art security gates strike a note of discord in the aura of early 20th century grandeur radiating from the antique chandeliers, dangling disk shaped lamps, marvelous molded ceilings, and a staircase with a brass and wrought iron filigree banister set off by stone columns whose capitals evoke dragons.  Elsewhere, old portraits, posters and maps and a glazed exhibit of obsolete library supplies contrast with modern paintings.

Amalie’s Hage (last name Skram, she was a famous Norwegian feminist - Hage means garden)

How about a chess match?

Back on the main level, a sunny arrangement of display surfaces in the middle playfully mocks the somberness of the stately dark wood spokes housing fiction and the mottled green tile glowing beneath the huge skylight.

An Ipad on a stand is used to demonstrate the technology to locals, and in Periodicals each magazine becomes the cover of its own back issues cabinet (so you don’t interfere in someone else’s browsing) and newspapers are neatly stored in cases lit by vertical neon tubes.

Peer Gynt, just one of an assortment of Esperanto translations

Peer Gynt, one of a selection of Esperanto translations

The library has regularly scheduled IT classes and language training and a weekly get together lets you practice your Norsk.  BOB has many NSL titles and books come in over forty tongues (I’d never heard of Amharic or Dari).  The floor in this section is emblazoned in blue characters indicating which dialect resides there.

I like these unusually placed markers and earlier followed a path of colored arrows leading to local history.  So the patrons could access it, the composer Edvard Grieg willed his library and body of work to them and this archive includes almost 6000 digitized letters, some from Brahms and Tchaikovsky, and many photos.  There’s also an extensive collection from Ole Bull, a famous 19th century violinist and Norwegian folk music champion.



Ascending the red spiral stairway that hugs tall glass panels etched in words encouraging freedom of speech, I came to Children’s where a wall has stencils of branches and green and gold netting draped above substitutes for the leaves.

The arms of a white tree clutch book CD combos and high up is a mural of youngsters’ artwork.   A red donut chair on a silver pedestal sits near shelves blocked by an orange board dotted with small holes kids squeeze through to get in.  The play area looks out on a verdant expanse and coats and gear cram the cubbies in the cloakroom.

There’s a padded space with toys and Lego blocks for the shoeless to romp in too (because of the ever-present mud of a wintry clime, it’s customary to remove footwear when entering homes).

Capricious cushions

Capricious cushions

At one end of a cheery caterpillar, you’ve got a choice of poufs to perch on.

BOB lends video games, and children have fun on Playstation here, or if over 13, on the second story where they have Xbox as well.

Tots can attend a series on Somali history, culture and language, view movies and listen to stories, hunt treasure or register for the summer reading program with author and cartoonist visits, performances and parties.  At Family Sundays, kids explore clowning and bugs or see a puppet show.

Great people watching

Good people watching

Overlooking the pedestrian mall, furnishings are attractive and practical.  Stacks are raised (great for a thorough cleaning) and have presentation racks on the ends and a central ledge devoted to face out recommendations.  Volumes are gripped by wire book ends built into the top of each shelf and everything is illuminated by bars suspended from the arced metal extensions.

Upper part of the atrium

Upper part of the atrium

On the second floor, long flower boxes packed with DVDs and comics ensure no space is wasted along the balcony railing I leaned over to survey the activity under me.  Sporting handles for support and water saving big and little flush buttons, even the toilets are full of functionality.

Not considering circulating items, there’s still a lot happening at the library.  Adults could go to literary lunches, debates, theater premieres, films, concerts and dances or vote in elections, discuss philosophy, learn Firebase or genealogy, join a reading group, knit clothes for Tanzanian babies or hear book talks, Norwegian folktales and lectures on subjects as diverse as art and football.

Step seats in Teen

Step seats in Teen

The YA area is an adolescent’s delight.  Stuffed with age appropriate offerings and a big screen TV, the tiered structure above and the delightful upholstered lounging spots on window sills and pictured below give growing bones plenty of opportunities to stretch out.

Scandinavia style

Scandinavia style

Gently curved cases cradle fantasy tomes and two massive piles of board games await tournaments.   On Mondays and Wednesdays, Red Cross volunteers help students do homework and on other days, assistance is provided via an online service.

Aprons hang in an abutting workshop which has a 3D printer (that they’ll teach you how to operate), soldering iron, vinyl cutter, hammers… so you can work with tools or discover how to program or construct robots.

I love the geometric fixtures that are scattered around.  A zigzag Lucite holder defies gravity and this intriguing piece reminds me of a math puzzle I had as a girl.

Angles anyone?

Angles anyone?

Use the audiovisual studio to edit movies, create music or just transfer old videos to a current format and if you want to immortalize yourself there’s Demoteket where you can bequeath BOB your output, be it written, filmed or recorded, so others will recognize your genius.

Siren in her domain

Siren in her domain

Wifi is on the ground level and in the Music Department as well.  Headed by Siren Steen, it’s got tons of sheet music, an electric organ, LPs fittingly held in boxes made of album covers and guitars, violins and other instruments for loan – though not, of course, the grand piano or its candelabra ;)

Quite an assortment!

Quite an assortment!

BOB has 700,000 items and most everything published after 1964 (and half the material before that date) is available digitally through the catalog which is also searchable in English.  Members can download 700 Norwegian fiction titles or borrow one of seventeen ereaders for a month.

This really is the perfect location – the bustling port is a quick stroll passed a towering fountain and a gazebo in a park, then along a promenade filled with foliage, statues and sculpted water courses.

BOB is the red roofed structure just left of the pond tree rimmed pond @ the bottom

The library is the red roofed institution to the left of the tree rimmed pond @ the bottom (click to enlarge)

What a wonderful asset for the inhabitants of this sparkling city by the sea!

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Reveling in Reykjavík

We come from the land of the ice and snow / From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.  

I couldn’t get Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” out of my head when we were in Iceland this July…

Grófarhús (the museum)

Grófarhús (the museum)

…though I got a brief respite while gaping at the wonders of the fabulous Borgarbókasafn Reykjavíkur (or in English, Reykjavík City Library (RCL)).

For the past 15 years, they’ve occupied the first, second and fifth floors of this downtown building.  City offices and archives are on the third and fourth levels and a photography museum is on the sixth.

Informative staffer at the main desk

Obliging woman at the main desk

The system includes six culturehouses, a library in a school, a bookmobile, and a storymobile called The Jester goes to nurseries and after school day care centers.

The director and each branch manager have MLS’s and many of the librarians specialized in libraries at university or are historians or students.  Extra summer personnel from June 1 to August 15 aids with the additional business from visitors – the friendly staffer above started in high school.



RCL has a variety of innovative offerings – in this section near Circulation, you can pick paintings to rent or purchase.

Modern design informs the interior.  Setting off the white walls, furnishings and fixtures come in vivid geometric shapes that complement striking structural contours.  A curved ceiling above bright orange seating and one of the promotional big TV screens resembles a jigsaw piece.

Near the entrance

Love the zebra prints

Notices are posted on a mesh metal slab that wraps around the corner.  Spindles look like artwork and rearranging things is a snap since stacks are on wheels.  Face out shelving seems to be a priority and even the silver security mirrors are intriguing.

Quite an assortment to tempt you by checkout

Quite an assortment to tempt you by checkout

There’s lots for sale to benefit RCL.  Besides the bóksala (book sale, but you knew that didn’t you?), toys, dolls from Nordic stories, lunchboxes, contact lens cases, masks, crockery, cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, art kits and supplies, music boxes, magnifiers, placemats and postcards are just a small sampling of what you can buy.

Relax with a magazine

Relax with a magazine

RCL has RFID and patrons check out their own materials.  Users appreciate the free wifi and three public computers on the 5th floor and can also borrow Kindles.

Ascending the glass enclosed staircase I encountered a little theater space with costumes and a mini stage where kids can put on plays or just dress up.


Fun time!

Close by, Children’s has a highchair next to a table covered with a matryoshka doll tablecloth and parents sit on the ground comfortably on whimsical stuffed pillows.  Blond wood cradles the picture books and sunny yellow shelves hold the rest of the collection.  A shoe rack keeps the mats clean and a giant snake and oversized stuffed bear perch high up overseeing the room.

Helpful children's staffer

Helpful employee at the youth counter

The arms of a barren wintry tree trunk silhouette grab your coat.  Young artists’ pieces and charts of indigenous animals cheerily deck the walls.  There are board games and puzzles, homework assistance, arts and crafts, storytimes and family mornings.

Lots of color

Lots of color

In April they hold the Reykjavík Children’s Culture Festival.  As usual, there was a lot happening this year – tale telling (including recipes for witches’ brews), an exhibit featuring snaps adolescents took of their favorite places and another of sound sculptures and art created by nursery school attendees.  Tots could play bingo or chess, attend a concert or a production of Prumpuhóllinn (Farting ;) Palace or Hill) or learn some Lithuanian or Ghanan dances and words.  A prize is given for the kids’ favorite Icelandic and translated books and teens read titles in their native languages to youngsters.

Great way to fill an alcove

Amusing alcove

A sense of humor permeates the surroundings.  This delightful carving made me smile and Miss Piggy highlights a display of porcine figurines.

Walls sport fanciful hangings – a paisley form comprised of buttons catches the eye and local faces in black and white photos sparkle with impish glee.  A porthole window lights the bean bag filled teen spot and sketches plaster the space.

YA Lounge

YA Lounge

Their comics department is currently running a series showcasing Icelandic comic artists and has tons of manga in with Asterix and Tintin.

RCL has email reference, home delivery for the infirm, a Twitter feed and a Facebook page with pictures of yoga sessions and bands as well as advertisements for job openings, their GBLT collection and a strolling cultural “safari” presented in English, Polish, Vietnamese, Thai, Arabic and Portuguese.  Though Icelanders are legendary for the amount of literature they produce per capita, there is a limit to the output of 330,000 people, so items come in a myriad of languages for all ages.

Áslaug on the rd level, by the DVDs

Áslaug is waiting for your questions

On the fifth floor I found a movie room where each Thursday in summer they air a film Spirits of Iceland: Living With Elves, Trolls and Ghosts, then take sightseers on Dark Deeds, a one and a half hour literary walking tour of downtown with ghost stories.  Ever resourceful about increasing their coffers, they’ll do it on request for groups for a fee.

Media area

Media area

This location has over 4000 DVDs and the music department includes antique LPs.

Upper tiers have views of the sea and mountains and boats in the harbor.

Perhaps not the most comfortable chair, but quite creative

Perhaps not the cushiest chair, but remarkable nonetheless

RCL publishes an English language newsletter and hosts acting and writing workshops and films in conjunction with the capital’s international film festival.

Cards cost about $15 annually, but seniors and under 18’s don’t pay and books go out for a month.  Though you can only check out movies for two days, documentaries get a week and music a fortnight.

For the 22,000 immigrants per year, the library has a number of multicultural projects aimed at facilitating their integration into this unique country.

Nearby Gullfoss

Nearby Gullfoss

This warm and welcoming resource adds the cozy fire to this pretty little city in the land of the ice and snow.

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Balanced Barcelona

Ramp to the joint use facility

Ramp to the joint use facility

And balanced is the perfect description for Biblioteca Sagrada Família – Josep M. Ainaud de Lasarte (BSF), which is housed in a dual purpose building (the second and third tier are devoted to the library) and manages to serve both Spanish and Catalan speakers in this split personality capital of Catalonia, Spain.

When I went, BSF was in the process of changing its moniker to honor Ainaud, a much heralded parliamentarian, journalist, historian and promoter of Cataluña who lived in the barrio.

Gaudí's miracle

Gaudí’s miracle

It was originally named for the amazing La Sagrada Família cathedral, steps away down calle Provença, which already towers over Barcelona, though its completion date isn’t until 2026.

One of the largest Biblioteques de Barcelona (BCN), BSF encompasses nearly 28,500 square feet and sees more than 1000 visitors daily.  Easily accessible via the huge metro network that whisks you there in minutes, they have wifi and about forty five internet stations.  They hold daily programs, about 200 classes per year and 90,000 items including video games and role playing books, music and books on CD, movies and novels in both Catalan and Spanish.  It stretches them to buy in both languages but it’s necessary.  With few valuable tomes, everything but the most recent magazine goes out (reference materials too).

A friendly guy at the Info Point on the first level pointed the way and as I climbed the stairs, I noted the glossy black floors setting off the sleek furnishings and how plate glass windows everywhere bring the sunlight into this very stylish building which is fashioned around a courtyard that was once a communal garden.

Lobby replete with gegants - gigantic traditional parade figures that are somehow carried by the person inside (even the fire breathing dragons)

Lobby replete with gegants – gigantic traditional parade figures that are somehow carried by the person inside (even the fire breathing dragons)

The structure used to be a mall but was shuttered for 10-15 years until the neighborhood decided they wanted a facility for their barrio.  Reopened in July 2007, the basement has a farmer’s market.

Altogether, BCN has six libraries in the Eixample district, with 40 libraries in total.  Users can check out 30 items for 30 days (15 books or magazines and 6 DVDs plus music or games…) and renew twice and place holds from home.  They also lend books to institutions like social centers and private organizations.

Adults can attend writer talks, movie screenings and discussions, book clubs, lectures, exhibits, classes, plays, concerts, poetry recitals and storytelling sessions.  One series, Molt per Aprendre – dedicates a season to writing and art and the next to photography and creating technology.  You can connect to BCN through a mobil app, RSS feeds, or Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.  Ten branches rent out meeting halls and some lend laptops for in house use.

The cheery chartreuse cloud of Children’s has great views of the terrace outside and the street below.  I hear the unmistakable sounds of a youth program in an adjacent room as I wander beneath duck mobiles, passed Winnie the Pooh, bins of multilingual titles, and board books on wheeled carts.

Área infantil

Área infantil

In the storytime space, mats and vibrantly colored oblong cushions provide seating and a wooden sill does double duty as a bench.

Blue, yellow and green stickers separate titles by age and a big screen TV advertises upcoming events.   Kids can listen to stories or attend dramas and puppet shows and the amusingly dubbed Las Hormigas También Bailan (Ants Also Dance) while their guardians and teachers can get help with concerns or questions.

Decorated with niños’ artwork, red and blue fish swim all over one wall and youngsters can type on eight computers or play educational games on another two.

Talented tots - the mosaic theme recalls some of Gaudí's pieces

Talented tots – the mosaic theme recalls some of Gaudí’s pieces

Library personnel visit schools and work heavily with 11-15 year old students in particular.  They have a homework club to help disadvantaged kids and the bottom floor has an after school ludoteca (playroom) managed by the civic center where, during the school term, parents can pay to leave their child to study, play, get homework help, paint or do crafts.

BSF and the civic center share the lobby and auditorium (when I toured, a theater group for older people was rehearsing) where they put on concerts, exhibitions and other affairs.

Branch director Mònica in her office

Director Mònica in her office

Mònica Medina, who manages this location, had graciously agreed to show me around (and a big thank you to Mercè Muñoz Creus who arranged our appointment).  She’s a charming, intelligent and helpful woman who speaks impeccable English (so, any factual errors are my fault alone).  Despite her youthful appearance she’s been director at BSF since they opened.

We started behind the scenes where they have moveable storage, a staff room and Tech Services.  Much of the cataloging is done centrally so they simply add a cover, their stamp and a barcode, but since BSF can also buy books from stores, TS must catalog those.  They planned to add RFID tags in June and will eventually have self checkout and a conveyor belt for automated returns.

Near the employee area is the teen space where red and black shelves have a face out section in the middle, perfect for catching the eye.

YA (age 14-30 here) shelving.

YA (age 14-30 here) shelving

Young adults helped design this spot and it has displays of their creative efforts and an emphasis on things that appeal to youthful tastes like art, rollerblading, poems, fantasy, science fiction and computer games, plus BSF has rooms they can use for studying or reading clubs.

Mònica oversees 25 workers, 18 of whom are full time and BSF has six librarians holding at least a bachelor’s in library science (the director must have an MLS).  As a student, she always worked in libraries, first in secondary schools and a polytechnic, then in the last year of her studies she got a grant with the ERASMUS student exchange program and went to a Dutch museum library to do a practicum.

Customers can borrow/return from/to any of the metropolis’s or province’s locales, though a loan from outside Biblioteques de Barcelona costs 1.2 euro.  The website has downloadable eaudiobooks for those with limited vision (the Spanish blind have their own private foundation to get books from called ONCE), ebooks and newspaper, science and children’s databases.

They have workshops for people to learn to use technology, and if no class is going on you can use the machines in these rooms.



BCN will teach you how to use the library and you can take the exam to get the digital proficiency certificate often required to get a job here.  Their ten Antenes Cibernàrium media centers also encourage cyber skills and have modules designed especially for those 55+.

Assistive equipment is a forte with page readers, audio-description DVDs, magnetic ring transmission for hearing aids, large print volumes, Braille keyboards, talking computers, magnifiers and five branches have classrooms for new technology with joysticks for paraplegics (some operable with your chin).  Sign language interpreters are available for any class or program.

La ciutat invisible - magnetic books

La ciutat invisible – magnetic books

The installation above highlights books (the black squares magically attached to their silver backgrounds) that were produced in conjunction with The Invisible City, an effort to make voters aware of the lack of viable career choices for young adults.  The project aims to transform policies and so create new job opportunities.  As they say, “To make possible the birth of new realities, we must imagine them.”

Staff and volunteers venture into the community to work with old people, going to hospitals and nursing homes and if someone asks they’ll visit a residence.  There’s a reading club for seniors in conjunction with the civic center and they have booths at fairs and the local outdoor market where they advertise services and sell old material.  For example, this branch specializes in general and environmental sciences so they have a stall at the Barcelona science event.  BSF coordinates with social services and after the rest of the place closes at 9pm, classrooms can be used for studying until 1am!

DVD racks

DVD racks

Ingeniously, feature film DVDs are slipped into space saving plastic sleeves so you can easily flip through them.  Nearby TV series and documentaries have regular video cases, and you’ll find the language area with German, English, French, Italian and Portuguese offerings.  A yellow lantern signifies the large assortment of Chinese fiction and DVDs.  The organization of shelves here is meant to look like a labyrinth – when you get to the end you find a surprise of information.

Local history contains a part of their namesake Ainaud de Lasarte’s personal collection and lots on the Eixample/Sagrada Família section including works by those with ties to the vicinity, notably Antoni Gaudí, the inspired architect who in 1882 began that magnificently intricate sandcastle of an edifice that is La Sagrada Família.

Local history

Local history

Though four administrations help fund them (the governments for Spain, Catalan, Barcelona and its province) 60% of monies come from the city, and BCN has its own budget and can carry monies over for future requirements.

The 30 million euro (about 15€ per resident) received annually is leaps and bounds over the level of support just 17 years ago, when less than 13% of the public used them.  To amend that pitiful situation, they came up with a long term plan and formed a consortium run by Catalonian and metropolitan councils which created the thriving institution we see today.  Their mission called for sustainable construction, local involvement, a commitment to diversity and culture as well as information, and a quality professional team to serve patrons.

Llibres anglesos!

Llibres anglesos!

The system’s website helpfully has Català, Castellano (their Spanish) and English versions and I love that it defines bibliotecas as “locally based, public social centres open to everyone.”  No wonder nearly half of Barcelonians have a card, plus they mainly come on foot as a location is usually within easy walking distance!

They must do a good job publicizing as one quarter of those with cards are from outside the European Union, which mimics population statistics.  In recent polls they have consistently been rated the most valuable city service and 60% of the citizens say they use the library regularly.

BCN has lots of S/CSL (Spanish or Catalan as a Second Language) stuff to help immigrants and specific programs welcome them and address their special needs.  Library kiosks let patrons complete municipal forms and procedures and conveniently, some locales share a facility with other important neighborhood institutions like senior housing or a school.  Each branch has a director and can design their own programs to suit their community.

Intriguingly sculpted yet comfy

Intriguingly sculpted yet comfy

Your BCN card doesn’t just work here – you can get discounts at bookstores, museums, cinemas, music shops, galleries and theaters, and the e-newsletters often promote other specials.

They have Literary Itineraries – tours that explore Barcelona’s rich bibliographical heritage and take participants to places that relate to books and authors, including private quarters usually inaccessible to the public, and you can join these trips virtually too.

Ilustració científica

Ilustració científica

The maze of nonfiction stacks on the top floor reveals another delightful feature – numerous books of lovely scientific illustrations are interspersed with the rest of the special science collection.

Vivid nonfiction shelves

Vivid nonfiction shelves

Biblioteca Sagrada Família – Josep M. Ainaud de Lasarte is a marvelous addition to the area and along with BCN provides an invaluable resource to the lucky folk of this spectacular city.

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Lively Lisbon

Red tiled roofs of Lisboa and the Tagus River from São Jorge Castle

Red tiled roofs of Lisboa and the Tagus River from São Jorge Castle

Lisbon is a splendid city.  Set on seven cobbled hills, seemingly surrounded by water, there are miradores (viewpoints) everywhere.  Any road down from its heights leads to magnificent praças (plazas) and then quickly to the shore.


Since I don’t know any Portuguese, I wrote in advance to a number of the city’s public libraries about visiting and received an enthusiastic and proud response from Biblioteca São Lázaro (BSL), the oldest in Lisbon.  Now one of 17 locations in the metropolis, BSL is integrated with Bibliotecas Municipais de Lisboa (BLX), but was originally used by the (conveniently located) school next door and in 1883 became the capital’s first central library.

Beyond the yellow stucco facade and security gates lies an old fashioned tiled hallway with high cupboards and portraits on the walls.  Natural light steams in through transom openings and pale green disks hanging from above provide additional illumination.  At the far end, a cart loaded with dictionaries and a table of language learning materials can be borrowed by the sizable immigrant population, many Chinese or Bangladeshi, here.


If staff are busy, browse movies and books while you wait

Across from checkout, items on tall shelves stand with covers facing out and low white metal racks have movies.  Beneath a bulletin board another cart boasts mouthwatering cookbooks.

Painted a cheery blue and white, with gleaming dark wood floors, the first room on the left leads to the juvenile area and at the tidy Children’s station users can find out about available terminals.  I catch the sound of tots playing and a fresh scent from the tree outside breezing in through the oversize windows.

Public computers leading to Kid's just inside the entrance

Public computers just inside the entrance

It’s a hopping place.  Though not well funded, (most materials are a couple of years old and with just three staffers they must close on Sundays and for lunch on Mondays when just one person is working and for weekends in summer to get some vacation time in) they manage to serve this multiethnic neighborhood, striving to meet its specific needs, not least of which are the students in the adjacent facility with whom they work intensively.  In fact, when the neoclassical building was reopened in 2006 on the first day of school after being shuttered for a six year renovation, the cultural councilman emphasized the significance of the date and spoke of the importance of connections between libraries and the educational institutions in their areas.

Not realizing that the BSL director, Rui Faustino, was there, I just met two employees when I visited and luckily both of them spoke very good English, though there is still a language barrier, so any mistakes in translation are my fault of course.


Joaquina at the main desk

Joaquina, the reference librarian, was quite busy with patrons, but in between helping them was happy to answer my many questions.  BSL is supervised by Junte de Freguesia de Arroio, a smaller department, and will soon offer programs for older folks.  Totally free for any resident, they are barcoded, have wifi and eight public computers, French and English titles, ILL, music and a few audiobooks.  You can place holds and borrow up to five books and two DVDs.  Everything but the newest magazines go out for 15 days and there are no fines – you just can’t take anything out until you return your overdues.

My husband in the most beautiful reading room I've ever seen in a public library

My husband in the most beautiful reading room I’ve ever seen

But the best part of BSL is this six sided chamber appropriately outfitted with a hexagonal arrangement of tables.  Totally encircled, an inner table with a globe and an assortment of periodicals is lit by the luxurious quartz chandelier.   Maroon shaded lamps complement the glowing burled paneling and glass fronted cabinets protect Memórias de outras infâncias (Memories of other childhoods) an assemblage for researchers of more than 8,000 books published between 1900-1979 for Portuguese youngsters.

A piece of curved ridged wood mirrors the twist of the winding staircase leading up to the second story where an elaborate brass railing is all that stops you from flying off the path circumnavigating the space.

Spiral your way up

Spiral your way up through the sunbeam…

To get a better view from the narrow (and a little scary) walkway on the second tier

…to get a better view from the narrow (and a little scary) walkway on the second tier

In another, less opulent, room people were using the computers and perusing fiction.  While a number of homeless locals spend their days here, the São Lázaro district is slowly gentrifying.

Though they advertise events in the local papers, BSL has their own Facebook page, which they think could be another very good way for them to communicate with their audience.

Back out in the hall, I found a case of archaic library tools including an inkwell and quill pen.

Display of old library tools

Display from a forgotten era

That evening BSL was having a free astrology course for adults and each week in April and May a foundation put on a lecture series on topics such as infertility, osteoporosis, creating a CV, domestic violence etc.  Through BLX people can attend theater, writing and sewing workshops, parenting groups, musical events and family singalongs.  The system houses collections of ancient texts and digitized newspapers, and has exhibitions, yoga and meditation for young ones and classes on developing mobile apps, creating stories with your tablet, finding a job…

Dewey in Portuguese

Rather than Dewey, they use the Universal Decimal Classification (called CDU here)

The library has items for teenagers, comic books, a wheelchair ramp and the Sala de Apoio support room with moveable storage.

Snazzy moveable storage


I also got to speak to João about what’s required to work here.  As librarians, both he and Joaquina have university degrees and their director has the Portuguese equivalent of an MLS.  Support workers must get library certificates.  Before starting at BSL, João studied social animation and worked with a children’s shelter so he’s in charge of the almost daily storytimes.


Youth librarian João in his domain

The BSL employees are real go-getters and take any opportunity to supplement the meager budget.  Two weeks ago they increased their holdings by 2000 when they raided a branch that was closing for construction and they’ll rent out the building for a contributed book.  They’re really excited about the 5000 euro for new materials coming this year since many of their acquisitions come from donated volumes.

Stories anyone?

Stories anyone?

Children’s is decorated with a candy themed mobile featuring popsicles and bonbons and colorful kid’s artwork.  Squishy round lavender, teal and peach hassocks provide seating for parents and their offspring as does a triback upholstered bench. On a big foam mat in primary colors great for youngsters using the blocks and games on a nearby shelf, a happy duck and her duckling splash in a pond.

Book bundles

Book bags and board games

There are lots of toys and on a two tiered table, sunbursts lure the eye to a selection of picture books.  Small cushioned poofs stacked in a corner by the chapter books provide additional seating and shelf tops sport suggestions.

Drawings from talented adolescents, notably a lovely one of a woman in traditional dress playing a mandolin, paper a side of the flight of steps leading up to a mezzanine with nonfiction stacks, encyclopedia sets and an array of titles on Portugal.  This spacious spot has plenty of snazzy modern seating for students and customers reading beneath the heavy beams shoring up the stunning slatted cathedral ceiling.


Large loft

With its dedicated staff and mix of contemporary and bygone fixtures and furnishings, BSL exemplifies both the friendliness of the citizens and the breathtaking old world style any traveler will find in Lisbon.  This treasure is truly a boon to the community.

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