When you travel, do you include libraries in your itinerary? Do you stop in just to look around? I do. I love to see what other libraries look like, especially how they reflect their communities and make use of their space.
Although I have always been a reader and visited my home town library often, my passion for library buildings developed before I considered being a librarian. As a hobby, I started researching my family tree and visited libraries, archives, and courthouses in Illinois and Wisconsin (very little was online in the late 1990s). I was amazed at the friendly people who helped me with my research, and I was further impressed with the buildings, large and small. The Newberry Library in Chicago made the biggest impression. I had never seen such a large reading room or so many rows of card catalogs! The closed stacks intrigued me and made me wish I could explore the shelves on my own.
This passion for library buildings grew when I had a job with the Illinois Newspaper Project where I traveled across northern Illinois documenting newspaper collections. I visited libraries large and small and remember the creative use of space. Some libraries used former stores in historic downtown areas and one took over a former bank building (they kept old newspapers and local history items in the bank vault!).
Since then, I almost always find a library when I am traveling. Sometimes I stumble upon them by accident; other times it is intentional. Here is a short list of libraries that have made an impression on me:
- Hyannis Public Library (MA): Visited here to get out of the rain and catch up on writing postcards. Sat in the reference area with lovely built in bookcases and a fireplace.
- Ephrata Public Library (PA): Stopped here to take advantage of public computers while traveling. Nice building with lots of windows and natural light. Hitching posts are available for Amish and Mennonite community members who use horses and buggies.
- South St. Paul Public Library (MN): Stopped here to see the library my mother used as a little girl. The library has grown over the years, but she was happy to see the old furniture and built in bookcases that she remembered fondly.
- Salt Lake City Public Library (UT): I spent several days at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to work on my genealogy research, but I made time to stop by the main public library. Wow! Public art, a tall atrium with natural light, and a rooftop garden with views of the valley and surrounding mountain made an impression on me. At the time, they also offered printed materials for a self guided tour of the entire building. It was a busy place.
- Chester Beatty Library (Dublin, Ireland): Most tourists stop at Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and the Old Library which is truly amazing to see, but I highly recommend also visiting the Chester Beatty Library. They have an incredible collection of illuminated manuscripts, sacred texts and early books on display.
- Strahov Monastery Library (Prague, Czech Republic): This library is truly breathtaking with a fresco ceiling, floor to ceiling bookshelves, and cabinets of curiosities.
This is only a short list of the libraries I have visited, and I look forward to exploring more. Have you visited libraries while traveling? Which have made an impression on you?