The Week in Library Land: April 28 - May 4
May the Fourth be with you! Time to recount all of the exciting goings-on from this week in Library Land, and believe me, it was a doozy!
We continued our travels around the South and slowly made our way north and east, finally arriving back in Boston late on Friday night. Over the course of the past eleven libraries in nine states and, boy, were some of them amazing.
Our first stop, a little later than expected (again, two words - New Orleans), was the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library, a branch of the New Orleans public library system. The building, constructed in 1907 as a private home, became a library in 1947.
The space itself - particularly the front of the first floor - is really something, with rooms restored to approximate their original appearance. The ceilings, which are marvelous, come from a different home in the area from the same period. On the second floor, there is a really fancy pink fireplace.
One especially interesting feature of the library is the fact that a representative from the mayor’s office is on hand several days a week to meet with constituents. It’s great to see elected officials present in their communities. Library Land Score: 4.0.
With Birmingham our destination, we turned northeast and planned to visit a library in Mississippi en route. We pulled off the freeway and headed to the Meridian Public Library. Unbeknownst to us, Monday, April 29th is Confederate Memorial Day and the library was closed. We were pretty darn shocked.
Disappointed, we continued on our route and on Tuesday morning visited the Emmet O'Neal Library in Mountain Brook, Alabama. We’d heard good things about this library and entered with high hopes. We were among the first people through the door and we reserved a study room for a scheduled client call. So far, so good. Nice room, good wifi, we were happy.
That is until the door burst open and we were told in no uncertain terms that our time was up. Rather than giving us a few minutes to wrap things up the next users and the staff acted with extreme discourtesy, tossing their bag on top of our papers and speaking in loud voices about banal topics. All while we were on a conference call! We left the room, of course, but complained about the treatment. Our complaints were unheeded. In fact, when we asked about the policies a staff member rudely and aggressively told us we knew them and grew red-faced with anger!
We signed up for another meeting room. When it became available we were asked to give the people using it a few minutes to wrap up. We jokingly said, no, that the room was ours . . . I think our point was made. Why that same courtesy wasn’t extended to us was never explained and nor was there an apology for the situation. Do we recognize there are rules? Of course we do. Do we expect to be treated with a modicum of respect? Absolutely. This was a shocking experience! Library Land Score: 3.73.
With a bad taste in our mouths, we continued on our way, soon arriving at the Chattanooga Public Library. This is a big Brutalist hulk built in 1976. Despite is concrete stylings, there’s something light and airy about the library.
We’d heard about the Makerspace in Chattanooga from some of the staff in Savannah and they were right to mention it. While these kinds of spaces are becoming increasingly common in many libraries, Chattanooga is in a class by itself. Most of the library’s fourth floor is dedicated to a GigSpace, as they call it. There are 3D printers, a wood shop, laser cutters, a loom, sewing machines, a zine lab and so much more. It is an amazing space and there was a lot of activity. Library Land Score: 3.82
Our destination for the day was Asheville, NC so we continued on our way, eventually stopping in Hickory, NC where we visited the Patrick Beaver Library. This was a familiar-feeling town library with some nice features and amenities. Including multiple study rooms, a large children's area and some interesting interior and exterior details. The library does not currently participate in the Library of Things but did in the past. Apparently, items consistently came back damaged and so the program was ended. One thing that’s neat about the Patrick Beaver library is the fact that it’s situated among a number of local arts and culture centers, it makes for a nice little oasis. Library Land Score: 4.27
Asheville was a hoot but time was of the essence so we high-tailed it toward Richmond. As evening was encroaching, we rolled into Richmond and made a stop and the modest but certainly serviceable Belmont Branch of the Richmond Public Library. It's essentially one large room with a fairly diverse collection, no library of things and a single meeting room that can be reserved. Library Land Score: 4.09.
The next day was a watershed moment in Library Land. We visited the Library of Congress - a veritable citadel of knowledge - and my word, what a beautiful building! The building and its interior convey such a sense of gravitas. When we first arrived we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves. How would we ever find a place to work in a place like this? Well, it turns out to be pretty easy. You just sign up for a Reader’s Card and you have access to any one of more than 20 reading rooms. It took no time at all and it’s well worth the effort. There’s so much to say about the Library of Congress that they’ll be a future post all about it! Library Land Score: 4.55.
With a call on our calendars, we decided to visit a branch of the DC library system to look for a study room. We ended up at the Southeast Neighborhood Library, a little Carnegie on a sunny street. We asked about study rooms but were told there were none. There was a meeting room but that was for parties of four or more and had to be reserved 24 hours in advance. We figured we could probably use it if we were quiet about it. How wrong we were!
At first, all went well. In fact, a librarian saw us and we chatted a bit and were told we could use the room briefly. The call started and was going well until another librarian came in to say we couldn’t be in there. We tried to speed things along on the telephone. Minutes later, three people came in and told us we had to leave and it didn’t seem like they were going to take any guff, so we left. We concluded our call very successfully on the front stairs. Library Land Score: 3.18.
It was a strange experience to be turfed out of library like that. It was strange because it seemed so silly and needless. We’ve visited many libraries with similar policies around meeting and study rooms - but in most cases the library staff will say something like, “usually you need to book in advance but no one is using it” or “there’s a group using the room at X so you’ll need to be out by Y.” These are reasonable responses to someone seeking access to an unused public resource.
We really wanted to see the Central Library in Baltimore and so headed that way after DC. Unfortunately, the library closed early to prepare for an event. This meant we had to visit a branch instead and I’m glad we did. We went to the Southeast Anchor Branch and had an absolutely fine time. There was a friendly and helpful staff, spacious and comfortable study rooms and some really nice design touches throughout. Library Land Score: 4.0
Friday was upon us, the last day of the trip. We started the day in Freehold, NJ at the Freehold Public Library. A wonderful little branch. The new director was super nice and welcoming. She is doing some fun things - her zines are very cool. It's missing many elements - study rooms chief among them - but it was a good place to work and we were really productive. Library Land Score: 4.36.
Rushing headlong for New England, we were able to make two final stops in New York City before the sun finally set on our exciting tour of Library Land.
The first New York library was the Riverdale Branch. It’s a small urban branch, a bit run down but with a lot of heart and an amazing ceiling! We had only a visit as it was nearly the end of the day - but it was clear from the number of people coming and going that this is a well-used and well-loved spot in the community. Library Land Score: 3.36.
The director at Riverdale suggested we visit the Bronx Library Center, which is a much larger central branch in the Bronx and one that is open until 8:00 p.m. It was a good recommendation. The Center is a big five story building with floors dedicated to different functions. The first floor for the general collection and circulation, the second floor for kids and teens, the third floor for reference (and an outdoor reading area, open in the summer), the fourth for quiet study (though there are no study rooms, and the fifth (which more a mezzanine overlooking the fourth floor) for job skills and employment. There is a basement, which includes community and meeting rooms.
This is very much an urban library so it has a pretty heavy flow of people of every sort. This can mean waits for bathrooms and a certain amount of disarray. That doesn’t stop this from being a really impressive place - and the first LEED certified library in New York. Library Land Score: 3.64.
As you can see, it was a super busy week!