Years ago I was having a conversation with a priest of my acquaintance. He related the story of his first assignment, in a desperately poor parish in New York. This was one of those Catholic churches in the old style – stained glass windows, soaring arches, carved architectural pieces, and lots of gold and silver.
He was ranting one day about how the Church should take all of the valuables and melt them down or sell them, and give the money to the poor in the area. Hearing this, one of the parishioners commented, “Oh no! Don’t you see? This is one of the few spots of beauty in our lives. We need this.”
I was reminded of this yesterday, when DH and I visited a local church. It was built in the utilitarian 60’s, when everything was constructed with cement block and no style. There weren’t even windows in the church itself – though the beautiful old stained glass windows from the former building were hung as art in the hallways. The church was cold and dark and unfriendly. Don’t get me wrong – the people in the parish couldn’t have been more welcoming and friendly. But the space they had to worship in? Awful.
So this got me thinking about our libraries. My former library in Sidney was also built in the 60’s, with the same cement-block-not-wasting-money-here style. We did out best to make it as warm and welcoming as we could (and we did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself.) But in and of itself, the building was typical mid-60’s ugly. There are, unfortunately, a lot of those out there.
Segue to the lovely old Carnegie libraries that still dot the landscape. While not terribly practical (why did all of them have those enormous staircases leading to the front door?) they were beautiful. Warm wood, large windows to let in the light, fireplaces in some, stained glass in others. Walk into these buildings and the serenity enfolds you. You want to find a good book, curl up in a chair, and stay awhile.
While not my personal favorite, there are a number of lovely new libraries out there, too: the Seattle Public Library and the Minneapolis Public Library, to name a very few. But the concept is the same – welcoming places. Inviting places.
A library should be a place of sanctuary. A place that invites you to stay a while.
While we’re busily choosing the technology we’re offering in our libraries, and what ILS system, and whatever other technology issue we’re grappling with at the moment, let’s not forget the library itself.
Do we have comfortable chairs that invite our patrons to curl up and stay awhile? Do we have lots of natural light, or if that’s not possible, lots of soft, warm light for reading? Is the library a place where you feel welcomed?