Saturday, February 11, 2006
The New (to Me) Library
The public library has a new building. It's been open for six months. Today is the first day that I am near it when it is open, I am not on my way somewhere else, and I have the time to investigate properly. So in I go.
I am immediately confused.
The new building is exactly where the old building used to be, and then some. First, the town made a new borough building. The police station moved into that new building, and then the library packed up and moved into the building the police station vacated. I'm not quite sure how they managed that. It was a much smaller space than the one they'd been in for years. The library lived in the old police station for a year or more while cross-town the old library was knocked down, along with the Goodwill store across the alley. This new building was erected in that space. This is the source of my confusion. I keep looking for things where they used to be, even though I know they aren't going to be there any more.
For one thing, the door is nowhere near its old location. That should be a big clue, shouldn't it? I walk in and gaze about me, feeling a bit lost. It must show on my face, because one of the women behind circulation desk (just inside the door) immediately gives me a map of the place without my having to ask for it. I figure out how to orient myself in the room in relation to the map in my hands, and hope things will start to fall into place.
Children's section is the first floor. Never having been in the old children's section, I decide to skip it and go to the second floor, which is where all the things for adults are.
Wow. Really. I can't remember the last time I've been in a public library where everything matches and nothing's been destroyed or vandalized ("Not yet, anyway," says a tiny cynical voice in the back of my head. Quiet, you). All of the wood is reddish brown, and the furnishings are (I think) Mission Style: very architectural-looking. The lighting fixtures are these big square metal-and-glass things hanging from the ceiling. The walls are creamy white, and the trim is the same reddish wood. The carpets have a pattern in earth tones (same little voice says, "Good for hiding dirt." Well, that I have to agree with), bordered in a rust brown that is exactly the same color as the woodwork.
The study carrels have electrical outlets built into the tabletops, so you can plug in your laptop without crawling around on the floor. There's a rounded area, a sort of a turret, overlooking the downtown area. This area has soft deep armchairs at the windows and functions as a place to read newspapers (apparently, because that's what everyone's doing). A sign in the middle of this area reads "Quiet Zone." Does anyone else remember when the entire library was a quiet zone? There are also signs on the window sills that read: "Please keep the new library looking new. Shoes and feet should be on the floor, not the walls."
There is a globe here that immediately fills me with envy and desire. It's mostly semi-precious stones. The ocean is onyx, and all of the countries of the world are other materials: malachite, marble, quartz, agate, jasper, turquoise, abalone. Oooohhhh, I want this globe. My fingers itch to touch it, and before I can stop myself, I reach out and give it a little turn. It responds with a loud creak that makes everyone else in the Quiet Zone jump and look at me.
"Sorry," I hiss, moving quickly away.
Even with the map they gave me downstairs, it's taking a little while for me to figure out where I am. I can't banish the old library from my mind and replace it with the new one I'm standing in. I keep superimposing the one upon the other. I wander around in the stacks for a bit, hoping this will help me. They put the fiction on one side of an aisle, the non-fiction on the other. The fiction section is larger, and it breaks in what I consider a strange place, picking up again after the shelves with the current periodicals. I move a little further on, past the reference desk, and suddenly I'm in sound recordings.
Language tapes! Cool! I don't remember language tapes in the old library. They must have had them stashed somewhere I never went, or maybe they were behind a reference desk. There are the major languages I'd expect to see--lots on Spanish, French, German, Italian--and then there are some odder, more interesting ones: Hebrew, Hindi, Irish, Tagalog, Urdu, Yiddish. Here's a funky title: Colloquial Estonian -- twenty lessons on two cassettes, and an accompanying book. Serbo-Croation for Travelers, anyone? Then there are recordings that teach English to speakers of German, of Spanish, of Russian, of Chinese. Two different sets on learning to speak with an American accent. I wonder which accent they teach? We have so many.
Well, I finally found the grandfather clock from the old building. I was wondering where they'd put it. It's in a little area in the middle of the Young Adult paperbacks, right up against the wall, overlooking two study tables. As I sit down at one of these tables to scribble some notes on my impressions, the clock strikes four. Still works, then.
The clock is one of the only things in the room that isn't made of reddish wood. It's a lovely old honey-brown thing, a gift from the family that funded the previous incarnation of the library, and whose name is still attached to this one.
The other not-red item is something I'd like to get a better look at, but may have to wait until another time: a chess set. It's in another part of the Young Adult section, and there was a game in progress when I went by it last. I decide to go by one more time, and I'm glad I do. The game has finished up and now I can take a nice long look. The game board is alternating squares of blond and brown wood. Instead of black and white wooden pieces, the chessmen are made of bronze in two different finishes. These pieces are heavy. Substantial. More like playing with sculptures than with game pieces. They're odd, a bit abstract, shapes twisted into not-quite-natural angles. I am reminded of Escher drawings.
Each piece is different, but enough alike that you know they all belong to the same set. The men that perform the same function are similar but not identical. The bishops all have miters, but they vary: one is a little taller, one has a different-looking cross than the others, things like that. The rooks are bizarre combinations of castle and man. The knights all have different helmets. One of them looks like a Conquistador. The pawns all have different faces.
Yes, faces. Everything on the board has a face. I wonder if it's supposed to be some commentary on a game about war--admonishing the players not to forget that these are people they're playing with. Each piece is inscribed in the base with the artist's name and what I think must be a series number: Mark Pilato, 6/40. So only 40 of these were made. Gorgeous. After I ask permission from someone at the reference desk, I take a couple of pictures with my ever-present digital camera.
Here are the king and queen of one set, and all four knights together.
It's probably time to go. The library's closing in half an hour, and it's starting to snow. I most definitely will not be waiting six more months before I come back here.