Though we’ve stayed at highway hotels here many times on cross country trips, I never took the eight mile drive into the city proper, so hadn’t encountered the Grand Island Public Library (GIPL) until I visited while passing through Nebraska once again this spring.
Wow! I had been missing something big – a lovely, sprawling facility for the 50,000 lucky townsfolk. Even the parking lot is impressive. Vast and tastefully landscaped, the award winning bioinfiltration (aka rain) garden has budding fuchsia and lilac hued trees, xeric shrubs, native grasses and bushes. Last fall, for a grant assisted by matching fund monies from GIPL’s Myrtle Grimminger estate, 65 volunteers managed to finish all the planting in two hours. A Legacy of Literature, the sculpture of a grandfather reading to children, flanks one side of the protected patio at the front while mesh seating with wide arms for coffee cups beckons from the other. A drive through book drop and window where you can pick up outreach crates are outside too.
In the expansive lobby, tall green stems and ficas are interspersed amid chair and table arrangements, busts of the Abbott sisters and donor plaques. Jumbo pots of prairie flora frame the threshold by security gates and at the far end, meeting rooms can be divided into four configurations holding up to 150 people.
The vestibule actually has lots of functions and I lingered, listening along with the rapt audience to the mystical strains from Andean musician, Oscar Rios Pohirieth’s flute and drums, courtesy of a series sponsored by Humanities Nebraska.
Under the raised curved ceiling by the entry, stacks spoke off from the center and small rolling cases feature suggested and hot titles or you can purchase something from the book sale to your right. GIPL has existed since 1884, but interestingly, both the Friends of the GIPL and the GIPL Foundation predate it and their continuing activities still enrich the lives of the 50,000 or so in their service population and the 45,000 cardholders.
Passed the circulation desk, the Art Alcove is an intriguing spot for contemplation with metallic looking Eames chairs, captivating canvases and a display of Fordite. This substance, also called Detroit agate, is actually layers of hardened paint created by auto assembly lines then cut and polished into fascinating, often sparkly, designs.
Celine, the Youth Services Librarian, showed me behind the scenes where I noticed a staff kitchen and plenty of room for technical services and processing. They doubled in size in the 2007 expansion and it feels so airy and spacious now. There’s ample storage for big cardboard dinosaur shaped cars (each school got one as part of last’s year’s campaign to advertise the SRP) and spinners where they cleverly keep bulky program detritus in plastic bags so it all stays together and can easily be recreated. Parts for more complicated events are stashed in large plastic tubs.
GIPL’s budget and IT services come from the city and they have 30 total staffers. Now that the recession is over they are going back to more full timers and they recently extended their hours until nine four nights a week year round, instead of just during the school year.
Members pick up their own holds. You can access a variety of databases from the website and download books, movies, magazines, audiobooks, music and comics. Users stay informed via the GI Library Journal newsletter, Twitter feed and Facebook page. The latter is splattered with happenings and GIPL Foundation announcements and adorable shots of cherubs at pajama storytimes and having a blast meeting firemen and Eddie the comfort dog.
A bright baby zone has a rocking snail and colorful cubbyhole book carts by a cheery yellow wall. Playthings are everywhere, but the blocks, dollhouses and model towns are all on practical high sided tables so toys don’t get scattered everywhere.
The juvenile area has all sorts of imaginative touches. A glowing poster of Snoopy perched on his doghouse was fashioned from bottle caps for a recycling themed event. A poster board trunk decorated by butterfly shaped leaves looms over one miniature park bench and a massive plush moose lolls on another. Towers of huge cubes spell out READ and offer seating on top and primary hued paintings and wooden games on some sides. Circle cutouts dot other squares – if you’re small enough, the cushions inside make the perfect hiding place.
Large stuffed bears laze under a display shelf sharing a column with an info screen. GIPL puts on an annual Bear Fair with Bearobics and bear tales and ER nurses who come in and check the health of youngster’s teddy bears (teaching tots about nutrition in the process).
Dragons appear at the top of the castle puppet theater at one end of the storytime spot while a rabbit princess seems to be imprisoned in a turret at the other end of the room. Banners from fairytales hang from the walls and a pile of red double pillows ingeniously pop up so wee ones can lean back while listening.
Juniors’ watercolors deck the glass panes near a wooden house with a kid sized kitchen to inspire budding chefs. Headphones hang by listening stations and long easels make it easy to draw or assemble jigsaw puzzles. A small space with cushy couches and a blue and red number rug to crawl on lets parents get away from the general hubbub.
Giant busy boards with car seats and beads on wires, vibrant dinosaurs, and racetrack spreads amuse adolescents. Laminated images of Winnie the Pooh, Peanuts, Peter Rabbit and Curious George at the front of each bin lead you right to your favorite picture books and a separate case holds the oversize books. Banners, leaf kites and balloons dangle from the ceiling and they have a wide assortment of Spanish items.
Infants love lapsits, and youths have fun at BookBop with music and dance, gatherings for homeschooled and Spanish kids, crafts and movie matinees. Plans for the Summer Reading Program kick off in May include life size board games, bounce houses, a concert and a bike rodeo. It should be well attended as last year’s SRP had 300 boys and girls.
Prime Time Family Reading provides a structured six week reading program where participants have a meal and learn about critical thinking. It’s especially good for Spanish speaking parents as it gives them a chance to practice their English.
Windows in the clerestory shine natural light onto the stacks and a kiosk promotes the convenience of Playaways. Twelve PCs are available in a lab and flower bouquets dot the tables holding the 15 public stations. Along one wall, machines satisfy all your copying, printing and scanning needs. Four small conference rooms as well as several big tables give groups a place to study together.
Around each corner I find little reading nooks with plaid chairs or conversation pits circling artistic arrangements of branches or a tantalizing weeping willow sculpture (cordoned off since people can’t resist playing with this valuable piece and it’s already sustained damage).
The multicultural section showcases dazzling Latin handicrafts and has a framed mélange of bookmarks children created from drawings, dreams and memories of the countries where they were born. Some talented soul used needlework to reproduce these charming pieces on fabric. The result hangs by an array of flags of the world and a mariachi’s sombrero above the Spanish materials and pamphlets.
Grand Island’s population is quite diverse. Somalians, Sudanese, Hispanics and Vietnamese are a few of the many nationalities working in the meatpacking industry here, so the collection has Arabic, Spanish and Vietnamese texts. Along with these languages, a placard announces “sign language spoken here.”
Large print has rockers and upholstered hassocks and lamps for gentle direct illumination.
In the middle of the library, the Reference section has low racks topped with bronzes and globes. At the friendly Help Desk, fluorescent words encourage you to grow, hope, inspire and excite. A carousel crowned by a red umbrella puts a positive spin on the weather with the slogan “April showers bring more reading hours.” Nearby recommendations are identified by a “Pass the tissues please – books that will make you cry” sign while a heap of luggage under a post with arrows pointing to world destinations highlights travel guides.
Friends can chat in the Teen YA Zone’s booths or surf the net on one of the eight desktops. Chill out on the couch facing the big screen TV and watch a flick using the wireless headphones, or browse the New Teen Books, graphic novels, music CD’s, DVD’s, audios, and magazines selected specifically for your age range. Join the Super Heroes Reading Club, anime group or the Minecraft Club or go to Teen Tech Week during spring break.
Original artwork is everywhere. I love this coverlet which appears to be composed of silk screened squares of adolescent’s sketches.
GIPL has wifi and you can print wirelessly. Customers can book a librarian for reference help, tech training and reading advice or attend English and Spanish computer classes on finding a job, learning the web, genealogy, Overdrive and social networking. Adults have poet and author lectures, their own storytimes, book clubs, Zentangle art demonstrations and cinema nights. For the Adult Summer Reading program, a native will talk about Indonesia and prepare regional dishes.
Employees make deliveries to the home bound and child and elder care centers and host booths at schools and community events.
Near the Literacy Niche you can find out about your roots in the Abbott Sisters Research Center which covers local history and genealogy.
I spoke with patron Richard Ross who said he loves the library and finds it relaxing and enjoyable coming here. Like me he is really impressed with it. He thinks it’s the best he’s ever been to in Nebraska – much better than the one in his home town.
Kudos to Grand Island for realizing how vital the library is in bringing inhabitants together and for supplying them with the necessary resources to fulfill that role.