So I want to tell you about our local branch library. It’s wonderful. It was closed for remodeling when we first moved in:
But now it is open! Yay! Let’s all go to the library!
(If you wonder why Sam is hauling what appear to be—and are—two very heavy grocery bags, it’s because they’re full of comic books to donate. If you wonder what Robin has on top of his head, hold on, you’ll see it better in a minute.)
Built in 1916 with a Carnegie grant, the library is a gracious, serene Classical Revival building (look at those marble steps!) with some Craftsman touches inside. Check out these skylights:
The reading areas are sunlit and peaceful, fitted with old-fashioned bookshelves, tables, and chairs, and splendid wooden paneling:
Here and there they have carved benches set in the walls. Here’s a picture of Robin looking goofy on one of the benches (yes, that’s quite a hat he has):
Every Thursday morning they have toddler storytime at the library, which I’ve been trying to attend faithfully, although last week we didn’t go as it’s a longish walk and it was rainy. But Robin loves it. The children’s librarian, Adina, is one of those delightful people who seems to brim with cheerful energy. She knows all her regulars by name, and when we poked our head in for the first time she was quick to take Robin under her wing. She’s got the kids’ book section categorized, partly in the expected age-range groupings, but also partly by interest—so there’s a “dinosaur” shelf and a “things that go” shelf, where fiction and non-fiction books for readers of different levels are mixed in together. So within just a few minutes she was handing Robin as many train books as he could hold.
I felt a kinship with Adina almost immediately. She’s a library person. I have spent a lot of time working or volunteering in libraries: I can quickly recognize library people, and I like them very much. “This library,” I told her, “is amazing.” I really was blown away. I hadn’t expected it to be anywhere near this nice. It’s the nicest library I’ve seen in ten years. It’s vastly superior for our purposes to the San Francisco Main Library—they have fewer books of course, but with interlibrary loan you can get any book you want. And they provide something that the San Francisco Main Library does not: a calm and beautiful space that’s inspiring for children.
I mean, when we lived in downtown San Francisco we rarely went to the library because it was ugly and depressing, with scowling security guards and metal detectors at every door, and homeless people bathing in the restroom sinks. I just ordered books from Amazon instead. But this library is a treat to visit—it’s not simply a place to get books, it’s a place for Robin to spend a delighted half-hour playing and exploring, while I chat with the librarians or just bask in the sunlit serenity.
Modern libraries are torn in two different directions: there’s the old mission, that of serving as a sort of communal temple to the mind, and there’s a new mission of providing Internet access to the homeless. The second mission is important too, but I wonder if it’s wise to try and combine the two functions in one facility. Places that are set up to provide services to the homeless aren’t usually great spaces for kids. It’s obvious to me only now—from being in a library that executes the old function and does it well—how much can be, and has been, lost.
“What do you need?” I asked Adina, after I’d had a few minutes of just being staggered to find such a treasure in a place where I’d almost forgotten to look.
“Well,” she said, “there’s the Friends of the Library…”
“Yes, yes, obviously,” I said, somewhat impatiently. I already knew we’d be joining the Friends of the Library, just as I already knew this library would be imperiled—all libraries always are. “But what do you need? Any specific materials? Periodical subscriptions? Infrastructure?”
And then there was a little gleam in her eye. “Circulation,” she said, with an intensity answering my own. “We need circulation. The city allocates funds based on usage, and we’re coming up short. Check things out. Here, take more books. There’s no late fee on the children’s materials.”
“How many can we check out at a time?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you right, it sounded like you said–”
“Forty. You can have forty items checked out at a time, and please do, we have DVDs too—I would be just delighted if every visitor went home with forty things every time they came.”
“Well,” I said. “All righty then. We’ll start over in this corner here, how does that sound?”
So that is how we embarked on a new mission, that of reading every book in the library, forty at a time (although to be honest we don’t take forty things every time, because I have to carry them home). But we do try to go every week, and check out as many books as we can keep track of. Robin practically sings all the way there: “Going to the library! Going to the library!”
And what a nice library it is.