Tennessee’ s most populous burg spreads out from the vast green swath of Bicentennial Mall’s cherry treed paths, the Capitol perched atop Victory Park hill and Legislative Plaza’s war memorials.
Anchoring one end of this surprising downtown oasis a few blocks west of the Cumberland River, the Nashville Public Library (NPL) is a graceful edifice dwarfed by hulking monoliths.
Despite the perspective, the Main Library (ML) is actually enormous at three stories and 300,000 square foot.
On the brass reliefs of the front door panels a turtle basks on a rock in a stream and four opossum joeys cling to mama. In the lobby, I immediately notice the gorgeous marble floors and accents – a luxurious setting for the comment box and racks of free papers, tax forms and bus schedules. Kiosks let you renew a vehicle registration or pay the County Clerk and long bags for wet umbrellas prevent slips on the slick surfaces.
Beyond the foyer’s informational stands, I find Check Out, holds pickup and Returns and helpful Angela Smith.
The parking garage taking up a good chunk of the ground level has four electric car charging stations and they validate. A big conference center has a caterer’s kitchen and is rented out for weddings and parties and ML has a 230 capacity auditorium and a couple of smaller meeting spaces with projectors, mics, lecterns and A/V equipment plus study spots fitting several people.
A side entrance leads to gleaming wood shelves in Popular Fiction. Light streams in through tall arched windows as you sink into a cushy leather armchair. Computers on a low task desk run along one wall and in Media, CDs are sorted by category. Inevitably I’m drawn to the extensive bluegrass and country selections, divided by letter as there are so many choices. Phantasmagorical images of iconic tourist sights remind you this is home to the Grand Ole Opry.
Up the first exquisite double staircase, I met friendly security guard Rochelle Lillard on the balcony circling the mezzanine. Soft light from the atrium and sconces illuminate an exhibit of intriguing outdoor mosaic installations and related ephemera.
The system supports adult and preschool literacy, has volunteer and internship opportunities and ILL. Open 24/7 via Southeast’s vending machine, some sites have seed exchanges or lend iPads and laptops for in-house use.
In partnership with local organizations, the Foundation’s Salon@615 presents bestselling authors – in May, Melinda Gates made an appearance. Friday Flicks and ML’s Indiana Jones Marathon are some examples of the many movie nights.
The website has a module for immigrants to practice English or prepare for citizenship and loads of downloadables – BoomBox and freegal for music, and for books, videos and more, Hoopla, OverDrive… And of course, they have the usual digitized recordings and photographs, cemetery, obituary and newspaper indexes, and language, encyclopedic, health, consumer, periodical, investment, bilingual and business databases, but I’d never heard of BookFLIX, ODILO, SPEAKABOOS and TechBoomers or ArtistWorks, Gale’s Religion and Philosophy, Career Transitions or Colorín Colorado, a national multimedia project for ESL instructors and learners.
The Nashville Room by the defunct Nashville Banner’s annals has a hushed atmosphere of bygone times. Program specialist Dixie Johnson told me NPL hopes to have a women’s suffrage section by 2020 and despite abundant built in outlets, PCs, overhead lighting in the stacks and other modern touches, the quality furniture seems pulled from a 1930’s steno pool and cases of delicate ceramic flowers and celebrations of the YWCA recall the past.
Administration, Tennesseana, Genealogy and TN authors are here as are assemblages of memorabilia from Ryman Auditorium (one of the city’s most famous music venues) and Metro Archives’ shots from the 2010 Flood and the TN Titans stadium construction. Four Writer’s Rooms are available on an annual basis to regional writers through an application and selection process.
The Civil Rights Room has a blowup of Freedom Rider and Congressman John Lewis’ arrest record and his prescient quote If not us, then who? If not now, then when? is emblazoned above Ionic columns. Plush plugs make it possible to peruse the curved timeline of the era shown on the bottom right.
The only free Civil Rights museum in the country, it has videos on a loop, oral histories and manuscripts concerning the desegregation of schools and public places. Nashville has four historically black colleges (and another 20 close by), so students and graduates had a huge influence on the movement.
Staff give general guided tours and specific ones, e.g. of the Wilson Collection’s rare and handsomely illustrated tomes. There are educational experiences and NPL reaches into the community on class visits.
In just one month, adults are taught French, folkloric dance, drawing and origami. Play Jelly Bean Bingo, try out virtual reality headsets or go to crochet circles and cooking, Anime, adventure, Nintendo, Scrabble or English conversation clubs. Bellevue has Spring Carnival for older adolescents while Richland hosts the Nashville Ballet. Crafts include Mexican Coiled Fabric Baskets, birdhouses, henna tattoos and Guatemalan Worry Dolls. Listen to talks on Life Skills, DIY, internet privacy, Sasquatch and Cezanne. Attend a pop concert and a travel chat or dream discussions, Zumba, qigong, yoga, meditation and mindfulness. At Be Well at NPL, seniors get safety tips, bone strengthening exercises and budgetary advice.
Around since the late nineteenth century, in 1901 NPL’s predecessor became free and, under the condition Nashville would contribute $10,000 per year for upkeep, Andrew Carnegie donated $100,000 for a new building that opened in 1904. In 1912 he gave $50,000 for two more locales, one the “Negro Branch Library” which closed in 1954 and is the source of the Carnegie headstone over one of the Margaret Ann and Walter Robinson Courtyard’s second level exits.
Steadily growing, except for a Depression era lull, a bookmobile and a teen section came along in 1947 and by 1950 NPL had “quietly desegregated.” The Friends started in 1957 and in 1962 the library debuted the first ever reading room at a municipal airport and its own FM radio channel, WPLN. Continuing expansion, in June 2001 they opened this award winning stunner as their headquarters.
Online links to blogs, podcasts, Twitter, flickr, Instagram and Pinterest accounts and YouTube lectures. Facebook sports rave reviews from adoring fans, announcements for groundbreaking ceremonies and sourdough sessions, promotions for e-materials and invitations for patron input when planning new facilities.
The most recent yearly statistics for ML and the 20 branches report a whopping 3,261,586 visits, a circulation of 5,648,749 and 2,214,447 items in seventeen tongues.
Entering Children’s, tot high slats hold tempting titles and futuristic neon fixtures present a subtly changing light show.
Guarded by a lintel of rough hewn logs, lavishly costumed marionettes stuff vitrines in an alcove by the theater where kids discover the joys of puppeteering. The Puppet Truck brings Wishing Chair Productions’ magic to the rest of Davidson County.
Tables and a TV on wheels can be pushed into arrangements for viewing or studying in The Alley, for tweens only. Youth’s skyscraper theme is echoed in backlit silhouettes rotating a rainbow of hues by the weird one legged stools for the internet terminals.
NPL offers toddlers a variety of storytimes and has book groups for all ages and interests. Dogs encourage confidence in early readers
In the program area, floor boards are patterned in alternating stains and a large mobile of headless beings floats among the stars above. Toys and translucent tiles, crayons and a mini stage mix with Dr. Seuss prints. Seating is on foam cubes or teardrop, eggplant and puppy shapes and a climbing wall (!) uses yellow and red alphabet handholds and a bright blue mattress protects falls.
Primary colored architectural openings nestled in the shelves let younger kids scoot under them playing hide and seek .
Everywhere I look there’s a new delight guaranteed to please even the crankiest client. Fantastical chairs line a hall, arms provided by wings or bent twigs. In each corner smiling snaggle-toothed dinosaurs and similar giant creatures greet you cheerfully.
End panels are tilted so suggestions stay put and the two tier water cooler has a bottle filler. The book drop is a tiny version of ML and dioramas, carousels, and myriad distractions catch the eye.
Conveniently close to the courtyard where little ones can let off steam, caretakers also stick them in an incredible jungle gym of bridges, high-rises and subterranean passages.
Youngsters have fun at Frankenart, Lego contests and Ukelele Jam or fashioning Japanese fish kites. For kindergarten to eighth grade educators, curriculum kits come in over a hundred subjects from science to geography to humanities.
The third floor’s wainscoting is topped by wallpaper of scenes and maps of old Nashville. The federal depository’s government documents are up here as well as Magazines so you can grab something to enjoy under the splendor of the bucolic tableaus on the magnificent Great Reading Room’s ceiling.
Its glowing blue sides evoke a warm spring day and engraved bronze landscapes hovering above reference volumes and chandeliers add to the elegance.
Flexibility is paramount in the less formal Commons, where red armchairs on wheels can be grouped to suit.
In the Jobs Lab, individualized attention lets you complete applications and access resources to suss out the perfect occupation. A large computer training zone has 22 terminals and a teaching unit. Classes range from the basics to introductory coding.
Outside, a labyrinth is imprinted on the carpet by oversize chess pieces and Connect 4.
Nearby, Library Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has arrays on baby signing and the latest assistive technology for consumers who use braille embossers, conversion software, magnifiers, scanners, big keyboards, adjustable furniture and amplifiers or borrow a wheelchair and get real time captioning or ASL interpreters for events.
By the manga in Teens, a bulletin board of superheros touts Women in Comics. Triangular tables overlook the patio below and competitors on consoles slouch on a couch, focused on the action on a shared monitor. It’s extremely busy, so it’s hard to take pictures but manager Luke Herbst and Audry kindly agree to pose for me.
I spy a cool wall calendar that lets you easily swap out a day’s schedule and see what’s going on at a glance. Paintings done by talented YA’s hang by barstools clustered around little tables and customers love Fandom Fest 2019, the video game tournaments and plays targeted to teen tastes.
Sign up and get certified or use Studio NPL’s innovative electronics for soldering, robotics, textile work, circuitry, 3D printing and graphic design during drop ins.
Rebecca Stone, the Lead Mentor-Program Supervisor, told me mentors rotate so each day brings a different expert. Singers, songwriters, rappers, drummers and guitarists lay down tracks and besides the recording capabilities, the department creates chances for participants to perform in front of live audiences.
The space is packed with people using the new fangled equipment in the MakerSuite. A pegboard is full of power tools and aspiring directors have a real boom camera. An indoor garden is fed by blue drip lines and cables drop from above for extra power where it’s needed. Posters advertise graphic design and photography workshops. Wow, what an exciting place!
Back in the corridor I pass a display for the Transgender Day of Visibility before I hit the long rows in nonfiction and fine arts…
… and a small quiet area boasting a peaceful view of the nature in the courtyard below.
My thanks to Kayla and Andrea Fanta in Marketing and Communications for getting me permission to take photographs in this charming and amazing asset for the residents of the Athens of the South.