Monday, August 13, 2012

A tribute to libraries

It has become one of our most cherished touring rituals - finding the local library.  Once we're there, the kids get buried so deeply in books that it's hard to find them again, but I usually have time to look around and make comparisons.  And now, in our 15th apartment in our 13th city, here's the roundup...

MONTREAL & QUEBEC.  In these cities, I was a novice at library use.  I thought if I brought a letter from Cirque or a copy of our apartment contract, I would be given a library card.  I didn't know that the magic words were "We just moved into town."  And a piece of mail, any piece of mail, is what they want to see.  The Montreal and Quebec librarians were both hard-liners and did not issue us library cards (except for Montreal at one point giving us a `temporary card' that allowed us to take out three books).  The libraries in both cities, however, were quite nice, especially Montreal's multi-level glass-elevator central branch.

AMSTERDAM.  By Amsterdam, I had figured it out, and we managed to get a library card.  But the only library branch that was close to us was the Waterlooplein branch, which was very tiny!  And had only a couple of shelves of English-language books.  I think we took out every kids English-language book in the place at least once.  This was the first place we saw the RFID automated check-out system, now installed at most libraries we visit.

LONDON.  The Chelsea and Kensington library branches made lots of good memories for us in London.  We checked out tons of books.  We went to library storytimes.  The kids and I got especially attached to British authors like Lauren Child, Jeremy Strong, James Mayhew, Dick King-Smith.  I read lots of Philippa Gregory.  We read Peter Pan, and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and visited the famous statue near where we lived.  And of course we read Harry Potter.

CHARLOTTE  Maybe this is why Charlotte was such a depressing place for me - we never made it to a local library, there was nothing within reach.  We did find a great used book store, which we visited several times.

BALTIMORE.  Old dusty city library, the first place I saw that had postcards ready to mail to yourself so you could bring in proof of address.  I have since used this strategy on numerous occasions.

PITTSBURGH.  It was worth the lengthy bus trip to the stately, beautiful Carnegie Library.  Outside the library was Dippy the Dinosaur.

TORONTO.  It was kind of impossible to get to the main Toronto library.  Across the street from our apartment was a tiny law library that had a handful of children's books, devoured quickly.  Then we spent a few weeks trying to find an evasive bookmobile, and eventually gave up and started spending money at Indigo, a big Canadian bookstore chain.

SAN FRANCISCO - Isa and I spent countless afternoons at the Mission Bay branch of the library, close to the Cirque site.  We read book after book, took out items in Russian for our friends, and attended a Winter Holiday Sing-A-Long.  This library first gave me the recommendation, when I lost a book, to order an inexpensive copy on Amazon and return it to them, instead of paying the full new-book-plus-penalties price.  Another strategy I've had occasion to use more than once.  It was somewhere around this time that libraries began to compete for blue ribbons in the Kennedys' record-keeping.  San Francisco, I believe, allowed 50 items to be taken out at once, which seemed pretty amazing at the time.

SAN JOSE - it was a trek on the light rail to get to the Martin Luther King Jr Library, but a great library once we got there.  San Jose allowed 100 items to be taken out at a time!  The kids and I attempted to test this principle, but the weight of carrying the books across the city got to be too much.

SAN DIEGO - La Jolla's main public library was, again, a formidable distance from home, and our one trip there resulted in my lost wallet on the bus; an experience which overshadowed most of the pleasure we got from the facility itself.  But we found a branch nearer to us, close to a large playground and rec center, that we began to frequent more often.  This library had playgroups in different languages every day - Chinese, Arabic, Russian.  So often when we were reading, there would be an unintelligible singsong of little voices going on behind us.

BOSTON - We went to several different libraries during our time in Boston; most notably we spent time at the beautiful suburban libraries in Natick and Wellesley.  But for now we'll focus on the one we went to most often - the main Boston library at Copley.  Listed as the second-largest public library in the United States (after the Library of Congress), and the first children's room in the U.S., it's an exquisitely decorated old building which hosts as many architecture tourists as it does readers.  And although we did truly enjoy the hours we spent there, I did find their children's collection to be a bit musty, in need of cleaning out and updating.

ARLINGTON, VA - Though we're calling this tour stop Washington, DC, we are really in the library system of Arlington, and today we visited the local branch which we can see from our apartment balcony.  It became a prize-winner on our very first visit - the librarian was one of the most welcoming I've encountered, giving me a library card with hardly any hesitation, and announcing that the library allows unlimited checkouts!  The kids got a bit starry-eyed, dreaming of bringing shopping carts and suitcases to carry out all the books... I was also very pleased with their children's area, a solid and well-maintained collection of newer and high-quality kids' literature.  We may be visiting daily.

Enough typing for tonight ... I've got a book here to read!


  1. Janell here ... these days, we use an app called Library Books (on the mac) that ties into our local library system and lets us track books that we have checked out or on hold. If I want a book, I look it up in the system, put it on hold, and then when the app has a green star, I go get it (more often, them). Most importantly, it might come from *any* library in our county's system, but I can pick it up at the local branch. That way the power of the entire library system is just as far away as the nearest branch - that sounds like it could be useful to you. Oh, and I recently discovered "The Big Read" listing on wikipedia. 96 of the top 200 that I definitely haven't read (or seen the movie) ... that should keep me busy for a while. :)

  2. Hey sweetie! That post reminded me of when I wrote about how I love libraries if you want to read it!!! Hugs and we will connect someday

  3. Thanks for the comments, fellow book lovers! Janell I will definitely look into your recommendations!