This Week in Library Land - April 27
First, apologies for being so late with the recap of last week in Library Land. It can be summed up in two words: New Orleans. Arriving there on Saturday and attending Jazz Fest on Sunday (among other things) made sitting down to write a challenge. And it was also a super eventful week, with visits to seven libraries across three states and a terrific story on the project in Boston Magazine.
The week saw the start of our long-planned Southern swing and we visited libraries in Savannah and Macon in Georgia, and Montgomery, Greenfield and Mobile in Alabama.
The Bull Street Library is a Carnegie library that has had two additions build onto it over the years. The gracious old building features a community meeting room and history room but neither were accessible during our visit. There were also no study rooms, which was too bad. The new sections feature the adult and children's collections, a reference department and a large career center. We arrived with only an hour or so left of the library’s day and the staff were busy with their end-of-day routines so we weren’t able to spend much time talking with them about the libraries, its programs, its challenges, etc.
The Southwest Chatham Branch is located near the Savannah Mall and was our favorite of the three we visited in Savannah. It’s location was originally chosen on the assumption that the mall would thrive and people would pop in the library on their way to or from shopping. Unfortunately, the mall is all but dead but the library continues to thrive. It was the easiest when it came to parking and was also the only one of the three that had study rooms - always important when it comes to working in the library. We spent some time talking with the Southwest staff and were really impressed by their love for their branch and the system overall. The Southwest Library has more than SIXTY computers, including 45 in a central lab and another 15 in a separate space for classes. Very impressed.
The Carnegie Library was the third Savannah branch we visited and was pretty nice. It is one of two Carnegie libraries in Savannah and reflects the segregated history of the city. Originally the African America branch, it was the first of the two Carnegie libraries to open. It is also worth noting that this was Clarence Thomas’ childhood library. The modest building across from a park on a quiet street in Savannah. It consists of a large central room with the adult and children's collection, a circulation desk, and a number of computers. The staff was friendly and the space provided a comfortable work environment.
On Thursday, we headed west from Savannah and visited the Charles A. Lanford, M.D. Public Library in Macon. This is a branch library of the broader city/county library system. We were impressed by this library. It's a well appointed place with plenty of work areas (but, sadly, no study rooms). It appears to get good usage and has a variety of curated collections, including sections for new Christian and western fiction, as well as a small number of Spanish language books. There's a reading room that - while modern - harkens back to an earlier era of library design and construction.
One of the interesting details shared by the branch manager is the fact that the county library network employs a marketing specialist, a business librarian and a technology librarian. These are each specialized positions that support the community and the broader mission of the institution.
We arrived in Montgomery on Thursday night and explored the city on Friday. While not a library, the highlight of our visit were the The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Both are absolutely amazing and well worth making time to visit.
Not a fancy library by any stretch, the Rufus A. Lewis Library in Montgomery is a one-story cinder block building that consists of one large room. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a valuable facility - far from it! It has a meeting room (unseen on our visit), a number of public computers (including laptops for use in the library) and a modest collection of books, movies and music. Depending on the day and time of year, the library can be either quiet for very busy. According to U, the librarian, when it's Black History Month or science fair time there is hardly a seat to be had. During the summer things slow down but there's always someone on hand - even if only to get out of the heat. We were impressed and enjoyed our brief visit.
As we headed south to Mobile we decided to visit the Greenville Public Library, a short drive from Montgomery. It’s a fine little town library and that’s something we wanted to see and visit on our trip. For the first time on our Sourthern Swing, we found a library that not only had heard about the Library of Things but also has items in its LoT collection. The staff were very helpful, not only in terms of telling us about the library but in offering advice and suggestions for our travels.
On Saturday morning, we went to the Ben May Main Library, which is pretty sweet. It was build in the 1920s and the large main room is beautiful. It features a number of computers, comfy chairs and tables with chess and checkers. Wide stone stairs ascend on either side of the room to a broad mezzanine with shelves and tables. One of the standout features of the library is a 240 seat theater. We're not talking an auditorium or something shabby, this is a full on - beautiful - theater with a stage, a balcony, the works. The staff were super friendly and accommodating and we really enjoyed and had a productive visit.
The last item in our recap of last week’s adventures in Library Land is perhaps the most exciting. We met with Spencer Buell of Boston Magazine a few weeks ago at the South End branch of the Boston Public Library. It was a fun meeting and it resulted in a great article.
Well, that’s a wrap - better late than never, they say! And wait until next week’s recap, which will include highlights from New Orleans, the sad outcome of our trip to Mississippi, and the most discourteous library we’ve visited to date!