Gracious Charm in Grand Cayman


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

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


Ms. Ramona in her pretty office

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


Great for teaching a class

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

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


Reference tomes await the rest of the texts

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

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


Mr. Stanley

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

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


Adolescent’s alcove

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

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


What a gleaming and unique way to cap this architectural gem

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

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


Library Assistants Ms. Emily and Mr. Mikhail at Circulation

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

Huge portholes allow views onto the street outside.


An opening emphasizing a nautical heritage

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

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


For the smaller set

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

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


Adorable ladybug display case

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


Fiction and the stacks

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

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


Ms. Deanna is guardian of the documents

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

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


The shore

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

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Keen Wisdom in Key West


Southernmost city in the contiguous US from the naval air station

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


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

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

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


A warm welcome and a sparkling smile from Wendi

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

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


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

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

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


Patricia in her domain

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

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


Space for the smaller set

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

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


YA Area

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



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

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

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


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

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

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



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


Terrific patio!

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


Tilted tiers

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

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


Florida Room

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


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

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



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Delving into Delhi

India’s roadways must truly be experienced to be believed.  Though the south zonal headquarters of Delhi Public Library’s (DPL) sprawling system was only a kilometer away, one glance at the surging traffic on the roundabout in front of my hotel convinced me that I’d risk my life crossing the street, so I took my first tuk tuk to the Sarojini Nagar Library (SNL).


Pleasant grounds are the perfect venue for fair weather amusements

On a very busy street with throngs of carts where vendors ply everything from plastic containers to fruit, I found the vivid vermillion and cream stucco structure.  Backing up to a multistory mall replete with American fast food franchises, SNL is enclosed by a sturdy red iron fence in a huge cobblestoned courtyard where benches beckon beneath the boughs of tall trees and young ones can run around on a large grassy lawn bordered by bushes.  Potted ficas and flowers fringe the foundation and the wheelchair ramp leading to the entrance.


Meeting room – Photo courtesy of DPL

The previous day I’d spoken to SNL’s Library Information Officer, Mrs. Sudha Murkejee, about visiting.  She’s in charge of the South Zone of DPL, which also includes six sub-branches, a community library and one in a Resettlement Colony (where the dispossessed, and former slum dwellers and squatters are housed).  And she informed me that “Sarojini Nagar DPL has distinguished itself with the strength of the varied services it offers. Its leadership is committed to expanding its portfolio to serve the population better in the increasingly digital space.”


Mrs. Rautela

Though disappointed we wouldn’t be able to meet, Mrs. Murkejee proudly offered me an escort from one of her passionate professionals, Mrs. Urmila Rautela, a Library Information Assistant working in Reference, whom she depends on to carry out her ideas.

I’d call Mrs. Rautela an absorber and dispenser of knowledge.  She sometimes contributes articles, poems and essays to magazines like Pusta Kalaya and Pragati, and has a masters in both Hindi Literature and Library and Information Science, as well as certificates in English/Hindi translation (despite which, my usual caveat (that any mistakes in this post are mine) applies as it always does when I am out of the US) and sports and science journalism.  An employee here since 1991, she likes working as a public servant because she gets to help all sorts of people.


Internet stations

Sarojini Nagar has wifi and 20 web access terminals for adults, plus five in Youth with games and learning software.  Though there’s a half hour per day time limit, use is free of charge.

A blue classification sign on one wall lists Jainism and other particularly Indian subjects and nearby, a posted note proclaims “My library is the place where I find inspiration, information and connection with the world – and peace.”


Mrs. Sunita Bharbwaj and Mr. Sanject at Circulation

Catalog cards are used since DPL isn’t fully automated, but they will manually reserve books for you.  The online catalog has existed since 2005, so items accessioned after that are barcoded.  There are all sorts of recordings and movies, both for elucidation and enjoyment, in the DVD Corner and the DPL music department provides facilities to listen to songs.   Materials are mostly in Hindi and English, with Urdu and Punjabi volumes filling out the selection.

Customers can borrow two movies or CDs, three books and two juvenile titles for two weeks and items can be renewed three times.   A card is twenty rupees (about 40 cents) for five years for Delhi residents and fines are one rupee per day with a maximum of 50 rupees for adults and 25 for children.  Membership is limited to a specific institution so everything must be returned to the same place.


Spine labels are on the front of the book – interesting choice to pull out

Interestingly, most of the Dewey labels are on the front cover rather than the spine so you often need to pull out the surrounding volumes to shelve something properly.  Items are purchased by the central library which has a materials budget of 150 lakh (about $218,000) and a committee decides how the books are dispersed.


Face out stacks

Intricate metal stands display recent acquisitions in the adult area.  Vases of bright verdant foliage add cheery touches to the décor as do the pictures of gods and goddesses.  High up on a pillar, a portrait of Indira Ghandi watches over all.


Help desk for the smaller set

The Children’s Room is empty as it’s being painted. Actually, the whole building is being whitewashed, so some spaces are in a slight state of disarray and the usually packed bulletin board is bare.

Bright with primary color furniture and a pretty blue and white assistance station topped by a Plexiglas shelf, the youth area normally has carpeting, to soften the frequent falls of rambunctious tots.


Shelves w/ solar cooker (upper left)

Stuffed toys and animals share racks with solar energy boxes and cars crafted during last year’s happenings.  The big TV is used to screen award-winning, classic and historic films for youngsters and popular sports and classic comics of Hindi myths form a semicircle with other new arrivals on a table.

Kid’s programming is very active during the school holidays when they show daily movies and offer summer camps of organized topics like creative writing, cartooning, arts and crafts, pottery, origami and science modeling.  During the year, storytime is on the second Saturday of the month.


Enjoying a program – Photo courtesy of DPL

Teens have plenty of choices here and in a low case of graphic novels.  And adolescents can attend events like the robotics workshop provided in cooperation with Vigyan Prasar, an independent government organization that works to instill a love of science and technology by supplying resources, holding festivals and encouraging rational thought.


Jai Prakash

Security guard, Jai is keeper of the keys and locked the room back up when we were done.  He watches the CCTV cameras too, and checks backpacks of anyone entering.  SNL has 20 employees and only three are part time support staff.  Like Mrs. Rautela and Mrs. Murkejee, Mr. Mahesh Arora, Assistant Library Information Officer, also has his MLS, and some other workers have bachelor’s degrees.

Mrs Mukherjee was part of International Network of Emerging Library Innovators (INELI Cohort 2) a global libraries initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with admirable objectives that help build and strengthen libraries and their leaders so they are equipped to address the specific needs of their populations.


Rainbow hued Hindi titles

The Delhi Public Library system was started on October 27, 1951 as a UNESCO project in conjunction with the Government of India and was inaugurated by first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.  SNL was established by 1985 and has an elevator and air conditioning to supplement the overhead fans scattered about.  Its four stories house 75,000 items and besides the usual balanced collection, they have a number of books on yoga, the history of New Delhi and computer science.

Reference and the Reading Room are on the bottom while the next level has Circulation and Children’s.  You’ll find the chairman’s office and an activity hall for community outreach and programs (using expert volunteers) above that.  Then comes the top floor – a depository for all the books published in India – some go to Reference where there’s also a section for examination books (many students use the library to improve themselves).

IMG-20160205-WA0003 (1)

Studying hard – Photo courtesy of DPL

For adults, SNL offers English language skills, computer learning classes, career planning sessions and health counseling.  Programs like Copyright and Book Day are held outside in the garden.  And DPL hosts Drama, Music, Social Studies, Literature, Music Coaching, Naturopathy and Homeopathic groups and has annual competitions to promote cultural interests for all ages and to visually impaired members.  It also supports distance education for Library Science candidates by providing them training.


SNL carries @ 50 different periodicals

Delhi PL’s website is dual language and has an Ask a Librarian service, a Twitter feed and a YouTube channel as well as lists of the latest books, records and DVDs and helpful web links.  The Facebook page features photos of essay and song competitions, lectures, Independence Day celebrations, and links to their online journal.

DPL also has Deposit Stations (at jails, societies, associations…), Mobile and Braille libraries and holds over 18 million items and is the biggest public library system in India.


Mrs. Sharad with the guest register I signed as I left

After leaving, and avoiding a security frisk at the mall, I headed over to the adjacent Sarojini Nagar market – an enormous warren of crowded alleys where shops and stands sell saris, electronics, jewelry, heaps of clothing and every edible treat imaginable.  Once I finally managed to find an exit to the street I caught an Uber cab over to Hauz Khas, also in southern Delhi, just five kilometers away.


Hauz Khas ruins and Deer Lake

Where I contemplated how lucky the citizens of the area are to have the benefits and resources of DPL and especially the talented Mrs. Murkejee, Mrs Rautela and all the other dedicated and hardworking employees of the Sarojini Nagar Library at their service!

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Can’t Beat Cannon Beach

Right downtown, just a short walk from the sands, we found the adorable Cannon Beach Library (CBL).  Out front a cheery green and yellow hand painted sign, evergreens and blooms dot the flagstones.  Under a large plaque fashioned as a bookshelf, a redwood bench carved with a marine scene encourages you to have a seat and watch the parade of daytrippers.

View from the street

Along the street

Strolling along a short path at the side of the building, we spotted the international symbol for libraries flying on a large banner above the sheltered doorway.  Trimmed with a scarecrow and pumpkins for the harvest, the entrance provides a water bowl for thirsty pups and a glassed in bulletin board.

Before I left for Oregon last October, I contacted the office manager Buddie Anderson, the only paid employee, who kindly agreed to let my mother and I tour CBL before they opened for the day.  As promised she was there, along with several industrious members of the board, including friendly treasurer Phyllis Bernt.  Unfortunately they were all camera shy, but did supply plenty of information.

Bill Steidell did this fun picture

Bill Steidell did this fun picture and the sketch used as a logo

CBL is a nonprofit corporation, privately owned by its membership (for $10 annually, anyone can join) so is not eligible for many types of funding, but ILL is available in conjunction with the Seaside Consortium and they cooperate with Oregon public institutions to provide ebooks.  Though applying for grants was necessary in the past, the city, recognizing the considerable value of the library, is now giving some backing totaling a bit less than 20% of the budget and leases the land to them at an unbeatable price.

Cards are five dollars per year for any family, be they visitor or native.  Oregon does have statewide reciprocal privileges, so if e.g. you live in Cannon Beach and go eight miles to join the Seaside Public Library for $50, you can borrow from any other OR public facility.

PCs by Haystack tomes

PCs by local history

Focusing on an amazing natural feature just steps away, the Haystack Rock Awareness section above memorializes Bob Carey.  Close by is the Oregon Coast collection with volumes on regional wildlife and sea creatures and a selection of titles on the Northwestern US, many of which go out.

Previously in PR and fundraising, Buddie is particularly qualified for this job and also has the expertise needed to handle their computer network.  CBL automated six years ago and has free wifi strong enough to reach outside if you want to bask in a beautiful coastal day or use it when they’re closed.  They have two public computers available for ten cents a minute so many tourists come in to print boarding passes.

Buddie’s been here almost two years and is the first full timer.  About 80 volunteers a year donate time reading shelves, helping with technical support, running the big three day Fourth of July booksale and keeping the library open six days a week.  Income varies according to the success of fundraising efforts at events like Fall Festival.

Book sale

Book shop

This room has an ongoing materials sale with a couple of attractive display ledges.  Hardcovers and paperbacks are helpfully divided into categories such as “mysteries & suspense.”

Other monies come from selling American Primitive style prints of Cannon Beach done by Jennifer Lake, or as someone joked, “We rob banks.”  The quilt drawing is another source.  The latest creation was organized by Janet Bates, a master quilter and her four talented cohorts.

Circulation desk

Circulation desk and coverlet

CBL began in the back of a store in 1927.  The main part of the pleasantly weathered timber one story structure was built in 1976 and harbors 15,000 items.  Attic storage is accessible via pull down stairs and in Kid’s, chairs for programs are hidden beneath a table skirt the co president’s husband constructed.  This freed up the bathroom, though it quickly filled up with other essentials.

Gleaming wainscoting and molding border a gas fireplace set in a big stone hearth festooned in colorful autumn leaves, hurricane lamps and a tall model of a pirate ship complete with skull and crossbones on its sails.

Cozy spot for a wet day

Cozy spot for a wet day

Holiday teas, lectures, a twitter feed and writer series are some of the amusements offered for adults.  As so many of their users are vacationers, it’s almost all popular books, DVDs, audiobooks and there’s a free magazine rack.  The sole reference item is an encyclopedia set.

The Facebook page promotes author talks and the reading group.  It’s loaded with snaps of happy patrons and of volunteers installing the new fuchsia bushes and graceful plantings along the exterior – a project done in conjunction with the city and a local landscape artist.  The christening ceremony of the charming verdigris scallop and clam shell topped marble bubbler honoring Harley Sroufe, a respected citizen whose wife was a key member of the organization, shows all his family attending.

One of Shirley Gittelsohn's works

One of Ms. Gittelsohn’s works

All the paintings have been donated including the dreamlike seascapes by Shirley Gittelsohn.  Neil Maine took the stunningly unusual photograph of a red winged blackbird perched on a deer’s snout in the marsh out back.  You’ll often see him there silently stalking the perfect shot.  But despite the multiple representations of this peculiar looking species on the premises, puffins don’t usually venture in.


Fifteen hundred people permanently live in this lovely ocean community.  With lava monoliths lashed by waves, wide windswept beaches firm enough for easy strolling and native foliage and pines edging the shore,  it’s such a pretty place that the population swells to 32,000 in summer (along with the traffic which can make it tough to get to work on time during the warmer months).


Thanks in large part to these dedicated women, the children’s area was added in 1997, giving the library a total of about 1800 square feet.

Frames enclose posters of jungle denizens, portraits of girls, wall hangings of young readers and pastels of sailors relishing a wild catamaran ride.

Kid's quarters

Kid’s quarters

Replicas of an old locomotive and Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel sit on a shelf and a multihued kite in the shape of a schooner is draped from the ceiling.  Light streams in through a butterfly banner tinting the space.  Near a lavender cart, a petite lemon and blueberry shaded table holds a basket of crayons, coloring book and a sturdy puzzle.  Sun cast silhouettes of dragons dapple two long cushioned seats and in a corner, I noticed teensy coral and lime chairs by several spindles of easy readers.

Fisherman's float by the panes echoes the azure sky

Fisherman’s float by the panes echoes the azure sky

CBL does their own summer reading program and has functions for the small set like magic shows and Zombie Fest.

Haystack Rock

Haystack Rock

Such a delightful library for this gorgeous community!

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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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