Incredible Isla

Cancun in the distance from the southwestern side of the isla

The city can be seen from IM’s southwestern coast

Isla Mujeres, just a short ferry ride from Cancun, Mexico is a gorgeous place to live with sparkling warm aquamarine water and amazing beaches of the softest white sand.  A popular day out for tourists and locals, it’s tranquil in the evening when everyone leaves as there are only about 13,000 residents.

La biblioteca

La biblioteca

The island is small – about five miles long and very narrow, so the Biblioteca Pública Municipal 17 de Agosto is conveniently located at the midpoint in Colonia Las Salinas, a nice little village with brightly painted houses.  The library is downtown, by the stadium, tennis court, a magnificent children’s play area and a pretty white bandstand in the center of a decorative brick pavilion.

Librarian's station

Librarian’s desk with Mexican flag

Unfortunately, when we walked down there on the weekend it was closed so I came back a few days later and was warmly welcomed by Hayde and Mercy.

They graciously showed me around this pleasant facility furnished with some interesting old pieces.

Vacationer's donations

Vacationers’ discards

In the Area Infantil, youngsters amuse themselves with toys and kid’s books.  A curtained cabinet in one corner has craft supplies, a CD player and crockery for refreshments.  A bubbler provides clean drinking water and they can shut a door to prevent noise from distracting older patrons.

Donated toys

Donated animals

Colorful piñatas dangle over the miniature furniture and an alphabet chart hangs near the door with a map of the world across from it.

Children's area

Children’s room

The building is shaded by palms and flanked by tropical greenery keeping temps agreeable in the midday heat.  Out back a grassy walled space is perfect for telling stories in the emerald cool under the trees.



They manage to squeeze a lot of titles in, and the shelves of the Colección General are quite full.

Adult area with card catalogin background

Adult tables, stacks, card catalog and suggestion box

And there are even books for non Spanish speakers.

Foreign titles

Foreign titles

The staff gives great service to all customers.


Hayde on the left and Mercy on the right

What a sweet spot, and so handy for the adjacent school!


Beautiful new playground across the street

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Handy Hanapepe

Waimea Canyon State Park

Waimea Canyon State Park

On our way to Kauai’s Grand Canyon, a Christmas colored version of the AZ natural wonder, we popped into the Hanapepe Public Library (HPL). This branch of the Hawaii State Public Library System (HSPLS – an entity I covered before in my post on one of Maui’s libraries) is conveniently located just across the main drag from the quaint downtown, where a long creaking and swinging pedestrian bridge gets you across the river.  ‘Ele’ele Elementary School and a park are close by and just up the road is a fascinating industrial area where you’ll find a beach made of small pieces of sea glass.  Beyond the adjacent graveyard, a lava arch and keyhole cave are hidden on the rocky black caterpillar-dotted coastline.

Hanapepe Public Library

Hanapepe Public Library

Other hidden (literary) treasures can be found at HPL, a one story white stucco building surrounded by ginger bushes and palm trees, that’s one of six HSPLS facilities on the island.  Outside, there’s ample parking, a water fountain, a curvy bike rack and on the glossy red concrete floor of the lanai, a fresh air book giveaway is protected from the elements by an overhanging roof.

Once through the wood lattice sliding door, I was greeted by one of their four friendly staffers who introduced me to Karen Ikemoto, the branch manager.

Main Desk

Main Desk

She told me they serve about 10,000 people in Hanapepe and nearby villages.  The building opened in 1950 and has 5,350 square feet, not including the meeting space that was added in 2010.  The collection holds more than 34,000 items.

Music CD spindle

Music CD spindle

Open five days a week, they have wifi, six adult computers (one with a sunny yellow ZoomText large print keyboard for the visually impaired and there’s a touch screen also) and items are barcoded.  HPL loans out a mobile Netbook computer equipped with Microsoft Office for up to three weeks and offers lots of manga, as well as CD’s, DVDs and books (including some Asian titles).

Cheery bulletin board

Cheery bulletin board

Stands hold informational brochures and a colorful notice site announces bestsellers, new features and events.  HPL hosted over eighty programs this year, including such hits as the Honolulu Theatre for Youth’s Peter Rabbit, and answered more than 10,000 reference questions.   Nearly 500 people read over 7,000 books for their Fizz Boom Summer Reading Program, and participants were entertained by a slack key guitarist and a session on Hardware Science.

Knickknacks add contrasting shades to the bright cerulean stacks

Knickknacks add contrasting shades to the bright cerulean stacks

A wheelchair ramp leads to the 2200′ meeting room which accommodates about 60 people and has a 50″ TV purchased by the Friends of the Hanapepe Library whose book sale (buy discarded DVD’s for $1 or kid’s books for 25¢) and crafting efforts help cross things off the library’s wish list.

Cushy bamboo settees

Comfy bamboo settees

Overhead, twirling wood fans assist the air conditioning and complement the diagonal panels in the dark timber ceiling.  Intriguingly fashioned bamboo tables, cushioned chairs and couches invite customers to sit and relax.  At a study table, tennis balls covering the ends of the sharp metal seat legs preserve the carpeting.

Stuffed animals, ceramic figurines, floral arrangements, framed photos and anomalies like lava lamps dominate shelf tops and tots can create art with the stencil machine the Friends donated.

Stencil supplies

Stencil supplies

The multiple slots of the rack attached to the side of the Reference case house flyers with parenting tips and the Teddy Bear Post.  The coin operated copier machine is near the young adult fiction and there are several revolving towers of paperbacks and a New Book spot.

HPL is a busy institution that serves its community well and has a facebook page adorned with a photo of the library and the HSPLS hibiscus logo.

Help station packed w/ paperwork and tchotchkes

Help desk packed w/ paperwork and tchotchkes

Oversize titles and civil service exams share space by cutouts of Winnie the Pooh (and Tigger too).

Beatific boar in Kid's

Beatific boar in Kid’s

The children’s corner lies beneath high curtained windows that encircle the rooms.  Plush toys are everywhere and book/CD combos sit beside suggested reading lists.

Vividly covered kid’s Hawaiiana materials (the adult ones are closer to the entry) are shelved below an educational poster of local flora and fauna (of which the wild pig shown above is the largest – they are hunted in the ravines and gorges of this lush piece of paradise).

Hawaiian text w/ English translation below

Hawaiian text w/ English translation below

As I headed out, I noticed a shelf by the circulation station with recently returned items lets users pick from presumably popular choices – kind of like “Resident Recommendations” rather than “Staff Selections.”

And a strategically placed array of oshibana products affords the Friends a last chance to get you to open your wallet and support this charmingly eclectic little library.

Pressed flowers make beautiful bookmarks and cards

Pressed flowers make beautiful bookmarks and cards


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Kicking Back at Kips Bay

Since we were dog free in NYC for the first time ever on the way back from Europe last summer, we were able to hike above Gotham on the wonderful High Line and catch a bird’s eye view from the Roosevelt Island Tramway, both canine incompatible tourist draws.

Returning to the hustle and bustle

Returning to the hustle and bustle

On the walk to the cable car, I took the opportunity to visit another eminent Big Apple attraction – the New York Public Library (NYPL, as if you didn’t know).

Touring the Kips Bay (KB) branch on Third Avenue was much more manageable than the main location on 42nd Street where you could spend days without seeing it all, and they still have the famous feline out front, albeit embossed on the book drop.

Kips Bay Library

Kips Bay Library

The two story structure has an elevator and a plaque out front with three partitions to insert notices of imminent happenings for kids, grownups and newly released movie showings.  Opened in 1972 it’s named in honor of a 1600’s farmer who owned huge tracts in the district.

A rubber mat keeps mud in the foyer and leads to a glossy brick floor by the entryway.  Colorful shopping baskets and a cloth covered table with pamphlets and a box for adult summer reading contest submissions flank the doorway.

Friendly staff greeted me and took time from their busy schedules to secure permission for me to take photos.

New Releases

New releases

A colorful summery scene bordering encouraging slogans and cutout letters announcing their name adorns the Circulation Desk.  Bamboo plants there and over a display of recently acquired DVDs, bestsellers and titles for tots join vibrant paintings and glass covered dioramas with abstract contents in this pretty area.

In the adult section downstairs there are lots of patrons using computers.  A third of all New Yorkers don’t have home internet, so the wifi, twelve laptops, five desktops with word processing, two YA terminals plus three for kids are invaluable to lower income folk and those who want to save a buck.

Large clear black print points to mysteries, large type, urban and science fiction books and high windows over the cases let a green glow filter in from the foliage outside.  Most shelves are uncrowded enough for face out suggestions and customers pick up their own non A/V reserves.



Like all branches, KB has assistive software (some have Braille writers or machines that pronounce text too).  You can request ASL translators or close captions for programs and the disabled get a cut rate on fines.

The system has a publishing arm which puts out that wonderful tome, The New York Public Library Desk Reference (I have a passion for trivia so when I was getting my MLS my librarian mother gave me this and I immediately read it cover to cover), and many other classics including ones for kids on mythology, explorers and geography.  There are new titles on Kerouac and the Afghan conflict and they also create a number of digital works – I was fascinated by the scans of old menus though the thought of sweetbreads is kind of disgusting and 60 cents seemed a bit outrageous for lamb’s tongue in 1918.  The historical map collection is quite informative and I enjoyed William Henry Jackson’s old stereoscopic photos and original diary entries.

Upstairs red, white and blue stencils proclaim Welcome to the Teen Zone, which has Manga, adolescent fiction, upholstered seating and promotional posters.  Cushy cherry chairs with attached tables form a ring where youngsters can read or work together.

Great spot for study groups

Great spot for study groups

The system provides young adults with a wide variety of entertainment options – they can explode melons, play board games, design an Anime character, attend beading workshops or offerings such as From Planes to Silly Putty: How Things Work.

KB also has baby lapsits and playtimes, exercise for those 50+ (other locations have yoga and meditation as well), a science club for kids, films for all ages, toddler sessions, Spanish programs, hoarder support groups, book discussions, free art workshops for seniors and classes on how to Skype, online banking, and using the cloud.

Construction paper stars brighten the cinder block especially on top of YA NF where college and SAT prep paperbacks are prominently featured.

Cheery signage

Cheery area

Multihued hand prints on the panes, sunny yellow walls and serviceable furniture let you know you’re in the children’s space where a plush cupped palm lets youths browse technology volumes in comfort.

Corner in Kid's

Corner in Kid’s

A long banner studded with butterflies and the slogan Catch the literacy bug publicizes summer reading and there are sections for media, picture, easy and board books, and fairy tales (as a child growing up in the Village, my mother, a voracious reader, could only borrow two fiction selections but cleverly skirted this limit by also checking out fairy tales since they are considered NF) in the low stacks that allow a clear sight line.

Practical replaceable tiles carpet the storytime room.  Though KB doesn’t have meeting areas, NYPL rents eight incredible venues holding between 44 and 750 people depending on the layout.  Marble and maple trim lavishly appointed halls and soaring atriums perfect for secular weddings and corporate fetes.  The renowned front steps can be even be used as a movie set.

Table for the small set

Table for the smaller users

On one side, sturdy furniture in primary colors is impervious to roughhousing and mesh backed chairs by a two tiered shelf overlook the street below.  Behind audiovisual, a wood panel covers the back and meets the plaster high above the stacks.

NYPL’s facilities are scattered around Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island and include centers for the performing arts and for science, business and industry.  A few are open on Sundays.  ILL is free and chat is available 24/7 through Ask NYPL or you can email questions.  Employees visit nursing homes and homeless shelters and a four person department, not counting the volunteers, is dedicated to reaching prisoners.  On the net, guides for everyone from job seekers to immigrants and business owners highlight sources, links, ESL coaching sessions and free school delivery for educators

The statistics are staggering.  The system dates from 1895 and a number of its 88 sites were built by Carnegie.  At these, along with the four research libraries, they help more than 18 million residents annually.  Columbus’s missive declaring that he’d discovered America and Washington’s farewell speech are some of the prized possessions for perusal among the more them 51,000,000 items.  They have digitized over 800,000 documents and have 755 databases and compilations.  Everyone from infants to the eldest benefits from the astounding 55,000 free events each year.

Long view of Chilren's

Long view of Children’s

Kids have Toddler Hangout, crafts, martial arts, creative writing, Chinese ribbon dancing and they can learn about bionic bodies and squirt gun volcanoes or hear Big Jeff sing.

Older inhabitants can take classes on topics as specific as puppetry, photo editing on tablets, recovering data, belly dancing, public speaking, Windows or Skype for Spanish speakers and making jewelry.  They seem to be a social director for your neighborhood – play Italian card games at Belmont or Mahjong at Riverside, or got to a film and discussion.  Recently a trivia contest with backing music was held at a nightclub and the subject of clothing design inspires symposiums and a Lindy Hop Fashion Show.  On the first Friday of the month they host a party with cocktails where people with something in common (like historically black colleges alumni) can mingle after hours in their galleries.

Ground level

Ground level

The web site’s home page advertises a community oral history project about NY’s neighborhoods and an exhibit of illuminated paint – 3D works from artist Peter Bynum.  The blurbs are intriguing – I immediately wanted to read about impostors and their scams and take the quiz on what kiddie lit character I am (Pippi Longstocking – yay!  I love Astrid Lindgren’s tales).  Listen to podcasts from interviews with creative figures, lectures on the woman of NY or recordings of poetry readings and WWI songs or watch videos of immigrants becoming citizens.  If you become a friend of the library you get 40% off tickets to hear writers like Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) speak at LIVE from the NYPL.  The fall calendar includes George Clinton, Salman Rushdie and Neil Gaiman.  Toni Morrison, Lou Reed and John Waters have appeared previously.  Other events are usually free like those from The Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers where researchers discuss their work.  Past programs have seen John Lithgow conversing with Bill Moyers and lecture topics such as the decline of American institutions and travelling in Siberia.

The online store sells everything from cuff links to baseball caps, and of course I have a lion coffee mug so I was delighted to see the iconic creatures on our way home.

On the way back from our trip across the river, we passed by the flagship building

By the flagship building

It’s easy to understand why this venerable organization is arguably the world’s greatest public library, and Kips Bay is no small part of that.

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Amiable Amsterdam

Conveniently situated next to my hotel and a short jaunt from the busy tourist district and main train hub where everyone seems to wind up, I encountered Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (OBA).

Amsterdam's Pub;lic Library

Amsterdam’s Public Library

An intriguing concrete structure with short open passageways on each floor providing views, its seven flights tower above the metropolis.  This is the central facility so it’s open until ten every night (except for a few holidays) and has eleven levels accommodating its 28,000 square meters (a whopping 301,000 square feet).

OBA has solar panels on the roof and uses renewable elements.  Underneath, free 24 hour covered parking can shelter 2,500 bicycles, the preferred mode of transportation here.  Out front an umbrella shaded café and a sunny plaza offer relaxing places to watch the movement of the cranes and ships at the port.

Ascending into Jorge Luis Borges' heaven?

Ascending into Jorge Luis Borges’ heaven?

Entering via a big revolving door I found a very modern building with gleaming wood floors and sparkling silver elevators.  Escalators are set off by glowing pillars and multicolored light panels on the ground.

Free up to age 19, a variety of memberships are available, from 20 euro to 100, depending on what resources you desire, though even the most inclusive pass charges 1 euro for each AV unit, game or hold placed after the first ten.  Cleverly, the most expensive card includes a yearly donation of an additional 45 euro to support the library.  Though usually materials are borrowed for 21 days and can be renewed twice, in summer patrons can take ten things for six weeks so as not to interfere with a wonderfully long vacation.  They have self check and you can go to any location or items will be sent to your home branch for 50 cents.

Snake lamps draw attention to old tomes in attractive glass displays trimmed in shining pine.  Changing TV screens embedded in the sides of these variously shaped pieces catch the eye.

Platforms and walkways encourage close inspection

Platforms and walkways encourage close inspection

Other exhibitions reveal dolls in mountainous black dresses from a young fashion designer, photographs of kisses taken all over the planet, miniature handmade books and innovative cooking implements.

The teen area on the second floor has video games, comic books, audiotapes and CDs, but Children’s is at the bottom and is overlooked by higher balconies and corridors strewn with paintings.  Lit by radiant abstract mobiles, phantasmagorical paper mache creatures watch over the round stacks.

Venturing into the youth area

Venturing into the youth section

A see through storytime room is brightened by a multihued vine creeping around its white walls.  Two tiers of cushions face a grand chair obviously meant for the tale teller.

The Kinderlab, where classes are brought, has rolling silver stools stowed under a transparent ledge hosting juvenile artwork and a red secretary in a corner houses a listening station.  One side of the space holds a long, recessed glass-fronted cabinet presenting a colorful array of suggestions.

A nook papered with Jip en Janneke (a popular Dutch series) cover illustrations has scarlet pillows and vats for books. From here, steps lead up to a raised stage with illuminated pamphlets and titles on parenting and at the other end, a huge polar bear gives Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too, a ride on his back.

An uncomplaining ursine gives his pals a ride

An uncomplaining ursine gives his pals a lift

Nearby, adults can stroll through a small exhibition then gossip at a booth or sink into fat red sculptured forms surrounded by ubiquitous marshmallow blobs perfect for diminutive behinds.  I like the idea of a youth area striving to please both guardians and their charges.

Parents can relax in comfort as their offspring enjoy the offerings

Parents can relax in comfort as offspring enjoy the offerings

Chinese dragon kites and drawings from a classic picture book about a crocodile deck the walls.  A teepee inspires play and a wavy oversize cubby hole decorated with tree branches and Janneke crawling in invite the smallest to explore this dark cave.

I was mesmerized by this marvelous mouse mansion.  With more than 100 recesses stuffed with tiny old fashioned furniture, it attracts all ages – my favorite scene is a messy study so chock full of volumes a ladder is needed to reach many of them.

You can spend hours gazing at this amazing assemblage

You can spend hours gazing at this amazing assemblage

Recommended books are arranged face out on a Smart Car facsimile and spine out in a container that evokes a tall Amsterdam dwelling.

The shelves here form numerous alcoves, each with its own theme.  In the biggest one, a red and white circular metal staircase leads up to an overlook – big people are discouraged by steps made for petite feet.  In a second, a teal ring envelops a big black puff and you can push a matching ottoman over if you want to use one of the workstations.

Interior of one of the stacks

Interior of one of the stacks

OBA has twenty five branches not counting an outpost at the airport that we stumbled upon on our way to South Africa last year.   Other ingenious sites include a tram depot and a gigantic church.

Some of the locations have features like courtyards or specialize e.g. one focuses on information on Suriname and the Antilles, has a three hour tech skills clinic on Fridays and an infants and toddlers collection.  Another concentrates on youth and has software to help with elementary school courses while a third has 25,000 graphic novels.  Buitenveldertbaan has a computer for those with reading challenges.

Margie, Medewerker informatiedienstverlening

Margie, Medewerker informatiedienstverlening

Over in Periodicals I talked to cheery and helpful Margie, whose title translates as information services employee.  She told me that she went to library school, which is usually two years, and that everyone who works here must have a library certificate.

The building has two radio studios they rent for long periods that provide income, as do the leases for the café outside and the terraced restaurant and the 260 person theater on the seventh story.  Audiences are welcome at the live broadcasts from the first and fourth levels – OBA airs a daily interview and Public Amsterdam FM covers culture.  The penthouse auditorium is currently staging a musical version of Stephen King’s Misery and a play derived from the kid’s book The Gruffalo.

So many options

So many options

I took a winding set of stairs up to an enormous media area where customers flip through racks loaded with audiovisual materials and scan curvy partitions full of films near clusters of shimmering tubes sticking straight up from the tiles.

Users can choose from 500,000 CDs, 300,000 LPs and 30,000 music DVDs owned by OBA.  Online, use MuziekwebLuister to pick from six million free music tracks and find info about your favorite genres and groups.  A separate room being constructed where you can watch videos should be ready by now and under a wall adorned with gold textured strips, an upright piano stands ready to entertain.

Friendly Riet

Friendly Riet

Though I didn’t get the names of all the staff who answered my many questions, they have my profuse thanks.  Everyone seemed to speak English fluently – Riet and I chatted for a bit and she was so nice.

OBA acts as a depository for EU documents and has dedicated references spaces devoted to Amsterdam, libraries of the world, gay literature, the piano, sheet music and Hispanic youth.  Tell the Wall has oral histories and tales of the city.

Residents who can’t make the journey in can get home deliveries and the library charges 7.5 euro per hour for tutoring in primary school subjects.  There are poetry contests, literary festivals, political forums in advance of elections, guest authors, weekly movies, reading clubs and you can volunteer to help seniors learn about their tablets and laptops.  Recently they gathered landscaping professionals to advise on garden construction and held a workshop to help freelancers increase their business.

In the multimedia section, a display of album covers and a pink neon sign direct you to a stand up terminal with speakers.  People perch on cubes of piled 33 rpm recordings at other computers with headphones and chrome keyboards or on high chairs at angled Apples resembling cyborgs.

Kiosk puts you in a lyrical mood

Kiosk puts you in a lyrical mood

The library has five conference spaces for rent and study rooms.  The Gerard Reve Museum on the second floor honors one of the country’s most famous authors and has manuscripts, first editions, personal possessions and even relics like a wisdom tooth and fingernails.

Five thousand people come daily and Centraal has had well over ten million visitors since it opened in 2007.  The system has at least 700 PCs and 200 iMacs and travelers can use wifi or search the internet on one of the 490 terminals here for one euro per half hour.  Outlets for powering your devices are everywhere and a computer area is festooned with abstract art.

Foreign language items come in Arabic, Russian, Persian, Portuguese, Spanish, Urdu, Turkish and Frisian (one of my brother’s favorite sayings about that obscure language is Es hat eigenskip das de Fryske bydrage ta da Americanske literateur ta bienske is. (this may not be a totally accurate spelling…) which means “It stands to reason that the Frisian contribution to American literature is a modest one.” ;)

Watch the boats sailing by

Watch the boats sail by

The cream cases in fiction are bordered by orange (the color of their royal family) and white fairy lights.  Large letters announce categories and end caps hold tastefully positioned volumes enclosed by glass.  By the English books, boxes showcase vibrant jewelry assortments and square cushioned benches afford city vistas.

Lots of pleasant distractions

Lots of pleasant distractions

OBA’s web site links to a Twitter feed and gives you the chance to win prizes if you agree to answer quarterly surveys to improve services.  Pages highlight energy, sustainability, music, cuisine, religion, design and the heritage of Brabantish speakers and there’s a selection of 5000 downloadable ebooks and eaudiobooks.  Databases cover a wide range of topics from data for immigrants, language learning and grants to Dutch journals and tutorials on basic skills and browsing.   Creative sessions to develop children’s imaginations, summer reading suggestions and tips on how to avoid web bullying and harassment are here as well, and other links let you know about events in the region.

Local canal

Local canal

As this wonderful and monumental place confirms, Nederlanders obviously know how important libraries are to their communities.

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Brilliant Brugge

A few train stops after Poland, we found ourselves in Brugge where just a short walk from my hotel through an alleyway…

europe 2014 1955

Passage from our B and B to the library

…I encountered a parking garage serving a smart brick and dark glass and metal edifice.   Parked on the cobblestones close by, a small van with the slogan “de Bibliotheek komt naar je toe” (The library comes to you!), indicated I’d found the right place, which a stylish mint and coral sign emblazoned on the rear door confirmed.

Hoofdbibliotheek Biekorf (HB) is the main library for the city, but there are twelve branches, not including a seasonal location in a cabana at the beach!

Helpful staffers made me feel welcome

Friendly staffers gave assistance

Under a sign declaring onthaal (welcome!), I found the main help desk where I chatted with three employees who spoke fluent English.  They told me that people switch around and work at different stations, and that you must have a library certificate to work here.  It takes one year to get after finishing a three year university course, and some professionals also go on and get higher degrees in librarianship.

The structure has two stories and was built in 1986 then renovated around 2009-10.  It’s a roomy place with a funky flair evident in the grape floor and overhead banners and contoured concrete ceiling.

Cushy seating by the comics

Near a display on vampiers – just can’t get away from them these days ;) – select an item from the bins of graphic novels then lounge in fashion on ebony and violet armchair cubes under a gilded chrome and CFL diagonal light fixture.

By the front entry, a clear Lucite newspaper rack lets you see the entire front page and magazines are featured in an intriguing cream tinted hard plastic blob – a style also seen in the framework enclosing the Pacs, checkout stations and the informational brochures.

Magazines by the front entry

Magazines by the front entry

Perch on black and white bar stools at high tables to sip drinks chosen from a well used coffee machine or settle onto fuchsia hassocks at the big screen computers.  Stand alone lamps providing ambient lighting for all the little reading nooks scattered about.

An independent store selling new books right off the lobby catches the impatient who came for a title that was out.

At the back lies a pretty courtyard where the “Cultuurcafé” occupies a typical Belgian construction.  A statue amidst verdant foliage and curved metal seats lends this patio the air of a sculpture garden.

A lovely sanctuary for a sunny day

A lovely sanctuary for a sunny day

Inside, a convenient chartreuse toned corner allows users to make cell phone calls away from inclement weather and other patrons and an exhibit of one week “sprinters” showcases hot offerings.

The low tiered red legged cases in the huge music and movie section let materials stand face out for easy browsing.

Media galore!

Media galore!

Triangular towers with slots for returns are sandwiched between the shelves where you pick up your own reserves (which cost one euro each to place).  Internet PCs are free to members (17 and under don’t pay, but it’s five euro for one year for those 18-65 and 3.75 euro for seniors) and some have word processing.  There’s a borrowing limit of eight things with a four week checkout and customers must return materials to the same library.

Besides home delivery for the infirm, HB has daisy books – audio CD Roms played on special machines that can be adjusted to accommodate physical and mental challenges – as well as large print and Braille titles.  Online you’ll find tips on how to choose appropriate items for your learning preference.

Rooting for Belgium!

Rooting for Belgium!

A solid wood staircase leads to the second level and the Children’s Department where, when I visited in July, I was greeted by a facsimile of the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer that overlooks Rio hovering above a World Cup display with relevant titles, trophies, competitor’s flags, an empty wine bottle and soccer ball decals next to an easel with an up to date scoreboard.

Children's Desk

Children’s Desk

Teens to age 14 and children can use the computers and books are in French and English, and Flemish, of course.  Stuffed animals abound and there are mini checkout terminals and sheets of brainteasers for kids below a swarm of cheery bumblebees.    Glowing bunnies are scattered about, and plush versions sit next to backpacks called snippertas containing selections of reading materials about animals, sleeping, sports, going on vacation… that cover issues and interests for tots up to age six.

View from the upper level

View from the upper level

And the vista of medieval rooftops and spires from the windows reminds tech obsessed youngsters not to forsake their formidable cultural heritage.

I asked Sophie from Children’s about a carved wooden piece similar to what I’d thought was a puppet theatre when I visited Fukagawa Library in Japan and she gamely demonstrated Kamishibai, literally “paper drama” for me.

Sophie demonstrating Kamishibai

Sophie with the Kamishibai contraption

HB makes a point of accommodating teachers – they can borrow extra items with longer lending periods and bring classes in for visits and events such as Literature of World War I and Book Tasting.  Third grade classes get to interact with visiting robots.

I like their idea of storytimes using children as storytellers and the session on ancient documents that lets kids test their skills with quills and become familiar with parchments, pigments and gold leaf.

Great spot for kids

Great spot for kids

The room is brightly painted with low tables.  Lime and cyan elephant stools and wavy chairs providing ample seating are surrounded by board book bins on wheels while floor to ceiling glass panes lets natural rays in.  A spacious storytime area has colorful oversize cushions and beanbags stacked against one wall while a retractable partition that keeps noise contained is folded into another.

I was taken by the vivid decor of HB.  Over in the adult part, there are curved midnight and pink benches and matching geometric forms show off newly acquired films near lockers for personal possessions.  A black rug with plum tinted streaks echoes the shades of purple found throughout the building.  I kept discovering unique touches – under a label stating “zonder inspanning zoeken” (effortlessly search), a color coded chart lists subject divisions and they created an outlook onto the cloister from a toasty window seat above an interesting looking radiator.

Warm bench with a view to inner plaza

Warm bench with a view to inner plaza

Along with DVDs, audiobooks and CDs, the library has manga, graphic novels, some older video games, anime, a local history collection and English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese volumes on the international shelves.  A pilot project that had been going on for two months is introducing ebooks.  Databases include historical archives, foreign newspapers and literary reviews for all ages.

HB has an elevator, selfcheck and free wifi.  From the web page you can make purchase suggestions, arrange for a guided tour, propose a program you’ll lead on your personal passion, read library news or link to the Twitter account.   Program topics include making jewelry from recyclables and finding out about sustainable foods or creating a climate neutral city.  You can attend photo exhibits, author interviews and a Flemish fish celebration!

The facebook page has pictures of patrons at the seaside kiosk and retiring employees. There are promotions for poetry nights and guided walks around the city.  Solicitations for volunteers to supervise kids’ book discussions and reminders that they now have ebooks pop up here too.

Note the subject plaques on the end panels

Note the subject plaques on the end panels

Frosted plastic end caps join cherry colored frames and blond planks to form the stacks and pictures on the ends show what’s there, e.g. the ouders kinderen (parents, children) icon has a small figure watched over by a larger one and onderwijs (education) shows a child carrying a school valise.  Photography uses a camera and the familiar comic/tragic mask indicates theatre.  Ingeniously, craft periodicals are housed by the craft volumes and sport DVDs by the sports tomes.

Smiling Sabine at your service

Smiling Sabine at your service

Up here in nonfiction, I got a chance to meet Sabine, who was very helpful.  She works in cataloging and one of the smallest branches in the system as well.

Truly the bibliotheek is an enormous asset for this enchanting region.

A nearby square looks like it's from a fairytale

A nearby square looks like it’s from a fairytale

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King-Size Krakow

Wojewódzka Biblioteka Publiczna w Krakowie

Wojewódzka Biblioteka Publiczna w Krakowie

While we were in Krakow, Poland in June, visiting our friend Danuta Glondys, Director of the Villa Decius Association, she graciously contacted her colleague, Anna Wiśniewska, from the regional public library, Wojewódzka Biblioteka Publiczna w Krakowie (WBP), who gave us a tour of this splendid facility.

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Anna Wiśniewska p.o. Dyrektora in her office with Danusia

Anna, deputy director here since 1996 except for five years when she was the director, told us that WBP was created in 1945.  Taking up the entire block, it’s an older building which was headquarters for the Austrian Army during World War II.  The four stories contain a hefty 15,000 square meters (161,459 square feet) and it’s just 200 meters from Planty Park, the beautiful green belt that rings the old city center (which is within walking distance).  Accessible by public transport, it’s a great location, which is good as this is the only public library in Krakow.

Out front, large sculptures resembling crumpled paper balls sit on the grass between the edifice and the wrought iron fence fronting it and inside there’s a café in the lobby and a defibrillator in the hallway for emergencies.

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Entrance to the main reading room

We started out on the busy top floor at Czytelnia Główna (main reading room) where a huge checkout desk is lit by natural light from slanted attic windows.  There’s ample space for customers as this building has 400 seats and 40 computers with Microsoft Office.  They have wifi and all the tables have electrical outlets for recharging laptops.  Blond wood furniture and plush red chairs provide a comfortable place to read or do research and though you can now search for all items online they’ve kept the old card catalog which reminds us of how complicated it used to be to find what you need.

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My husband Michael in the stacks

WBP has 500,000 items, plus the Malopolska Digital Library containing 80,000 digitized documents about the history and cultural heritage of the area.  They use the Universal Decimal Classification, security tags and gates and people can freely peruse all the collections.

With books, music, audiobooks, CD Roms, and documentary and classic films (some are 16mm), residents have a plethora of choices and can also access online databases, some the library subscribes to and others they create.  If city dwellers need anything else, interlibrary loan is available.

Like Anna, the younger reference librarians have MLS degrees.

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Reference Librarians at your service

Patrons can reserve books and pick them up the next day if they are not checked out
and anyone living in Poland can get a card here, even foreigners and the homeless.
Magazines, e-readers and media can be borrowed for two weeks while other materials go out for a month.  Depending on the format and department, they’ll loan between three to five things and most items can be renewed three times.

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The corridors give you an idea of the length of this enormous place

Nicely appointed with brass fixtures cradling globe lamps and plants adding a splash of green, pretty touches abound like a flowered cloisonné glass table and a black and fuchsia stand sporting tiny pamphlets on local attractions.

Paintings are everywhere, some with scenes of Polish peasants or typical country houses.  There’s an exhibition room with winners from an important Polish photojournalism contest and the long hallways on each floor provide further room to show off artwork.

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One of the dazzling walls painted by students from the Pedagogical University of Krakow

The library has an office for people in their “third age” (School for Active Senior Citizens),
a compilation of literature where the text is as beautiful as the words, a foreign language collection, music section, art library, a Business Information Center and they are slowly digitizing materials so people can view them from home (currently there are 1500 titles).
WBP also oversees local libraries in the Malopolska area around Krakow and helps with training their staffers and organizing book clubs for all ages across the region.

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Elżbieta with a Braille map of the Americas

Elżbieta Sawicka is in charge of the Braille Room for visually challenged people.  There are a number of offerings, from Braille books and older recordings on cassette to newer audiobooks on CD.  Volumes of Braille pictures let you feel the images and raised maps of Krakow and in atlases allow sensitive fingers to explore the city and the world.  Films here have audio descriptions since it can be hard to tell what’s happening when there’s no dialogue.

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Section for adolescents

The Division for Youth has graphic novels and a presentation of great origami bugs fabricated at a workshop for older kids.

This structure has four separate spaces seating between 30 and 100 people that can be rented for a nominal fee and laptop projectors and screens can be provided.  One conference room even has simultaneous translation capabilities.

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One of many stunning displays from local artisans

Computer training for seniors, photography workshops for young people and WBP hosted soirées and literary contests, often in conjunction with other organizations, are just a few of the library programs.  There’s the Malopolska Region Reading Out Loud Contest, Książka za książkę, (where people with a used book to hand in can get a discount coupon to buy a new one), and they run Strefa Bibliopatów which allows participants to swap books.  In another program, volunteers from Spain, Italy and Germany promote their cultures and teach their native languages and also helped seniors learn English.

A long term project “Generations – Creations.  Art in the dialogue of generations”, lets orphans and older folks enjoy activities together.  Forgotten Books introduces youngsters to treasured tomes and among many other activities, has sessions where each age group talks about why materials produced by their generation are worthwhile.

This year, WBP is honoring Nobelist Czeslaw Milosz with unique celebrations at various locations like “Five o’clock Miłosz” a poetry reading tea party and “Miłoszowskie Bugle Calls” where his work will be read out loud for fifteen minutes from the library windows by staff every day at noon. There’s even a Milosz scavenger hunt planned.

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Children’s Room

The vibrant Department for Children (DC) is equipped with low shelves, colorful sturdy stools, storytime mats, an easel for budding artists and wicker baskets of flowers by the radiator.  A firetruck, toys stowed in practical rubber bins, a shelf housing board games and stuffed animals in a cloth dragon that’s reminiscent of the fire breathing one in the royal castle’s dungeon give kids plenty of playtime options.  Framed children’s pictures brighten the walls and the space is decorated with a rocking horse, wood toucan and duck mobiles and a hopscotch mat.  A pegboard holds reading suggestions while a smiling tiger trash can below encourages tots to be tidy.

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The table shows children’s clay creations from Pracownia

A couple of months ago children attended Pracownia, a pottery workshop, and DC has competitions and animation, creative writing and theater programs and one where kids are encouraged to illustrate their own books.  Reading events may feature athletes or children’s authors and artists.

DC has many children’s storytimes and two technology stations with educational software teaching reading, writing and math.  There are displays from the physically challenged children’s week and youths did a wonderful painting in here of Krakow legends.

I loved the tree of opinions – young people write reviews of books they read and collaborate with publishers who give awards for the best review.

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Opinion Tree

Arteka, a magnificent, award-winning glass and steel structure that holds the arts part of the library opened across the street in the Małopolska Garden of Arts in 2013.  Its holdings include DVDs, CDs, board games, audiobooks and art related periodicals in print and digital form as well as the Malopolska Comics Studies’ collection and there are plans to build a digital archive of street art.  Patrons can search Theatre and Dance In Video databases here or use one of the 34 touch screens computers, five tablets or 30 e-book readers (another 30 can be checked out).

This spanking new building has a theater, mirrored and chrome talking elevators and in front of an upholstered couch and floor cushions, a big screen to watch films or TV.  PC’s are loaded with a multitude of special software for graphic design and creating and editing music.  There’s a Blu-ray player, a digital piano and a clock shaped like an old LP labeled Spinning Time.  Just outside eye-catching graffiti adorns the cement walls surrounding a garden filled with geometric shaped benches, deck chairs and white patio furniture.

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Media display in Arteka

WBP’s website has lots of pictures from events like their annual Krakow Festival of Comics, and the Scream Festival.  An Ask a Librarian email service lets questions be answered remotely and there are user surveys for both buildings.

The facebook page is plastered with photos, including some of the very interesting costumes worn at GRART, a festival for those who enjoy role playing games.  Subjects for posts range from current events like the World Cup, Senioralia (the great feast of seniors) and a recent impromptu fire drill to announcements of local happenings and new acquisitions.

What a great resource for this charming and picturesque metropolis!

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Wawel Castle across the Wisła River lit up for Wianki, the festival of wreaths

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Gregarious Galloway

New Jersey’s Galloway Township Library (GTL) is a large brick building in the municipal complex.   Playing fields, the police station, forsythias and holly bushes fringe the library and two wrought iron mesh benches donated by the local women’s club flank the entrance.

Galloway Township Branch

Galloway Branch

Though they’ve had a library here since 1973, the current 16,500 square foot structure was financed by a bond with some help from a state grant and opened in 1995.

GTL is one of eleven locations (there’s a community reading center in a high school) of the Atlantic County Library System (ACLS) which has a bookmobile too.   The county also has four independent libraries – Atlantic City’s being the biggest.



Double sets of sliding doors kept the fierce wind out when I visited on a blustery, wet day in April, and an atrium over the foyer let in some welcome natural light to nourish the potted Norfolk Island palm.  The vestibule’s a pleasant space with a geometric design on the tile floor, lots of brochures, bubblers, a promotional easel and appealing triangular gold fixtures above the community bulletin board.

Meeting Room

Meeting area

A doorway leads to the 90 seat meeting room which has a kitchen, projection booth, two storage closets and walls graced with winning paintings from a recent contest that you can purchase.  Altogether the System has seven meeting venues available to the public when not needed by the facility.

Recommendations galore as you enter

Recommendations galore as you enter

Just inside, a case of rustic bird houses, many with roofs made of bent license plates, squats next to a rack of books in series.  Nearby, displays of large print, new fiction and one week titles beckon to browsers.  A marble podium holds an open tome.  Once Upon A Time…, sculpted by John Gowdy, was given by the children of the burg and others.

It’s a well used site, with busy decor that constantly catches your eye.  An Earth Day display here, a decorate your own egg table there, and Easter touches all around.  Bouquets, baskets and plants celebrate the onset of spring and the main desk is a riot of color with construction paper ovals hanging from the ceiling and standing out against black backgrounds that cover the glassed in staff section.

Patty at check out

Patty at check out

At the Circulation Desk, Library Assistant, Patty Maddox, who’s worked here a year and a half, told me it’s a very friendly place – they specialize in chitchat which hones their reader’s advisory skills and gives them lots of recommendations to pass on.

The library strives to be a part of the community – the Rutgers Master Gardener Plant Sale is held here, and they offer free wifi, at least eleven public internet computers plus the juvenile game computer.  Visitors can also use and print from the internet.  Several technology classes for older folks were advertised like Computers for Seniors and Introduction to MS PowerPoint and there’s a tech support group as well.

Children's Room

Youth Area

Children’s is quite sizeable with its own bathroom.  With plenty of sturdy wood tables it can accommodate a good crowd and a huge elephant joins the abundance of plush toys atop the stacks.

ACLS produces numerous engaging leaflets such as 2014 Winning Children’s Books.  The calendar has crafts and story times for a variety of ages, in Spanish and English (Miss New Jersey was the featured reader at one of them) and there’s a Lego club and both children’s and YA poetry slams.

Cozy place to enjoy a favorite title

Cozy spot to enjoy a favorite title

In an alcove, a faux fireplace cleverly created from wrapped discards holds grade appropriate booklists.  Next to it, the two seater little red reading house complete with a bell above the entry gives youngsters a private place to read and on the other side, the literacy shelf has stuffed animals, games, a story hour kit and books for the younger set.  This early learning nook is embellished with colorful paw prints – it’s amazing what the employees manage to do with just paper and ink.

Love the animal track border

Neat animal track border

Beyond a low shelf, a cool curved window allows views of the neighboring meadows and woods.  Carpeted built in benches surrounding two sides of the space provide seating for caretakers during storytimes and there’s a comfortable looking oversize armchair so little ones can sit on laps while listening to a tale.

A collapsible purple fabric can is a simple way to stash playthings and baubles while board books are stored in an alphabet turnstile with cubbyholes.

Lots of room for story time

Lots of room for story time

Formica tables ringed in red, yellow, green and blue with matching stools stand up to the frolics of boisterous tots and bright plastic bins hold picture books near a shelf of easy readers.  By the book/CD kits and a mounted rack of suggested materials and music CDs, the curved children’s desk is garnished with bunnies and owls.

Children's Desk

Children’s Desk

Branch Manager, Pat Morrow, who was retiring in two weeks, told me there’s a dedicated mil for the library – always a great way to ensure adequate funding.  Galloway is the largest municipality by area in the state – one side of it reaches to the ocean.  Home to more than 37,000 people it’s a mixed community with a number of retirees.  ACLS members can attend book, chess and knitting clubs, English conversation groups, or lectures on Weird NJ (covering landmarks and state secrets) and the region’s history.

A Mother’s Day tea party was coming up, and the South Jersey Astronomy Club was bringing telescopes to one of the branches for an evening of stargazing on the lawn called Public Skywatch.  Over fifty Book Club in a Bag selections can be borrowed and there are even some for teens.



Instead of signs directing users, GTL uses multihued flags to point out Periodicals, the Information Desk etc.  Beneath high skylights, black wire shelves on wheels hold TV series on DVD and popular music.  Foreign films are housed on a separate rack and they have three computers in a quiet study room.

A glass fronted cabinet holds knitted goods you can buy from a resident and by the permanent book sale, free standing cage like forms decked with garlands of flowers exhibit canvasses from the Galloway Cultural Arts Center.

Looking into the stacks beyond the book sale tables

Looking into the stacks beyond the book sale tables

GTL has a New Jersey collection and there’s a great compilation of historical resources including digitized wills, immigration records and Civil War discharge papers accessible from the ACLS website.  The home page lists recently added DVDs and texts and patrons can watch IndieFlix streaming films and download ebooks and eaudiobooks, or magazines and music via Zinio and Freegal.

Since it was near Earth Day, there was a recycled crafts program for adolescents, and Teen Scene and Teen Meet provide opportunities for like minded minors to get together.  Youths have their own movie night, a Cinco de Mayo party and the intriguingly named Marshmallow Madness.

The spacious teen area has high tables with bar stools along with these upholstered blue and chrome chairs and lots of graphic novels to choose from.

Teen section

Young adult section

With a vast collection of over 700,000 items (625 different magazines – it boggles the imagination!), ACLS presents users with a plethora of resources.  It’s got loads of databases – Acceda Noticias gives full text access to 20 Spanish newspapers while Global Road Warrior covers geography and culture for the world’s countries.  Points of View helps students understand all facets of an issue and the Oxford African American Studies Center consolidates knowledge on the subject.

The system has a blog and twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, and Pinterest accounts (love the idea of painting old bricks to look like books and using them as garden ornaments).  The facebook page  has DIY tips like how to fashion an invisible bookshelf and promotes sessions such as Book Hedgehog Craft for Teens & Adults.

Materials can be borrowed or returned to any location and they have a foundation.

Back at GTL, a variety of prints adorn the walls by the Information Desk and a cubicle houses Outspoken Library, a computer with braille and audio for those with limited sight.

Reference Desk

Reference Desk

I’m really impressed with the ingenuity of the people at Galloway and ACLS – they’ve devised some unique adventures for their customers and really know how to spruce up the place using inexpensive supplies.

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