The Ben May Main Library, Mobile, Alabama
On the Library Land tour of the South, we visited an even dozen libraries across six states. There were some real beauties. Of them, there was one that really stood out as our favorite and that was the Ben May Main Branch Library in Mobile, Alabama.
It’s located on a broad and tree-lined street. The library is pretty sweet. It was built in the 1920s and the large main room is quite beautiful. It features a number of computers, comfortable chairs and tables set for chess and checkers. Wide stone stairs ascend on either side of the room to a broad mezzanine with shelves and tables.
Up the stairs on the right is a 240 seat theater, which is also accessible through a first floor entrance. We're not talking about some shabby auditorium, no, this is a full on - beautiful - theater with a stage, a balcony, the works. While we were there a local music school was having a recital and awards ceremony. It was just one example of the ways this library is used by its community.
The stairs on the left side of the reading room lead to the reference area, which is sunny, spacious and (relatively) quiet. The room has a fireplace and once allowed patrons to sit, relax, have a smoke and read the newspaper. A teen section, as well as a maker lab are also in this area. In addition to 3D printers, there are also a machine-driven woodworking device, laminators and a decal maker, which has been used to make signs around the library.
A new addition on the rear of the library includes the circulation desk and a good portion of the collection. The children’s rooms are off this section. We say rooms because the section snakes its way through a number of spaces. One of the most notable things in the section is a replica of the prow of the boat from "Where the Wild Things Are" that's big enough for kids to play in and around. It was built by prisoners and it sturdy and beautiful
The staff we spoke to were friendly and accommodating. The library is clearly a vibrant and important part of its community. We had an enjoyable and productive visit. The lack of any study rooms and a moderately high noise level held this library back a bit in terms of score but it's definitely worth a visit.