I love libraries. Over the years they have served as both workshop and sanctuary for me, and the most beautiful libraries embody an almost sacred quality.
The Central Branch of the Boston Public Library, located in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood on Copley Square, is one of my favorite places. The McKim building of the Central Branch, the site of the photos here, is deservedly a tourist attraction.
You might think that my affinity for libraries is all about my being an academic. However, in my experience most professors prefer to work in their offices or homes, rather than join the masses in a public or university library.
In fact, when I peer around the stunning Bates Hall reading room of the McKim building, few of the denizens “look” like professors — that is, assuming that profs have a giveaway appearance! Instead, I see a lot of young folks and adults from varying walks of life, at least based on the books, papers, and gadgets they have piled about them.
You won’t see many books in these pictures! The McKim building houses the research collection, which for the most part can be accessed only by request. The lending library adjoins the McKim building — it is big and serviceable but not nearly as architecturally appealing.
Today’s lending libraries are a multimedia treat for borrowers. Books, DVDs, audiotapes, and even e-books are now part of the treasure trove. Especially for folks on a tight budget, a library card can be a ticket to adventure, enlightenment, and entertainment. That $25 bestseller at the bookstore? It’s free to read from the library! (And if you read the first chapter and find that the book doesn’t float your boat, it doesn’t cost a cent to return it — unless you’re like me and return it overdue.)
And at some libraries, you can even refuel with some coffee and a morsel, though it’ll cost you.
For researchers and writers working on their latest articles and books, libraries are repositories of accumulated knowledge. Even if one isn’t doing research at the library, it provides a place of solitude to contemplate the task at hand. When I sit at the long tables at the Boston Public Library and imagine what other patrons are working on, I feel a quiet sense of shared purpose among our diversity of projects.
When I depart from the library and step out into the heart of the city, it feels like I’ve left a contemplative, cloistered space to rejoin the hurly-burly of urban society. I happen to like cities, so that’s not a bad thing for me. But it does make me look forward to my next visit to the library.