Thursday, July 8, 2010

Uh-Oh, I Feel Passionate about Something: A Rant and a bit of a Rave on Libraries (heavy concentration to be given to Chicago Public)

 Upon first entering the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago I knew I was in love. This was a deep and forever type of love. It was not merely the services they offered, the rows and rows of book stacks, the rare book room that had Vonnegut books on exhibit, the amazing size, nor the tables full of computers - no the thing that really made my heart skip a beat was the beauty of the architecture, the beauty of being in such an awe inspiring place. I mean this library is gorgeous, I could go on forever about each little detail, but the reason this architecture made me so annoyingly emotional was because of the respect for libraries it conveyed. This city had spent the time and the money to create a library that stood for something - a library that showed respect for its citizens by offering them not just a stack of books and some free internet access, but rather a space for them to gather information that could be processed into knowledge and wisdom. To see a library like this, built in  the supposed "Information age," was something that truly overjoyed me. I mean sure, I had heard of a few of these wonders popping up every now and again, but the truth of the matter was I had never been in one and the possibility of them continuing to be built seems to get less and less each year. So I left this library feeling excited, thrilled, and depressed...I mean the fact that this was my first experience in such a grand library and I was already 22 made me realize even more how much I longed to wander such halls daily.

The Exterior of The Harold Washington Library Center:

One of my Favorite Exterior Details:

The Winter Garden:

On our next visit to Chicago we made a point to visit the Cultural Center. I had heard that the architecture was gorgeous and so we set off, on our last day in the city, to give our eyes a treat. I will admit that I had done little research into the building and so when we got there I was excited to learn that half of it used to be the library for Chicago. I made a mad dash for that part of the building and was soon standing under (what I was told was) the largest Tiffany dome. Around me was marble of the highest quality and quotes all about the importance of the book. In the beginning I was like a kid in a candy store. I took picture after picture and stood, just trying to soak up all the beauty that surrounded me. I couldn't get over how amazing this building was. A volunteer started listing off all the wonderful materials that had been used to create this utopia, and I listened as best as I could while still darting my eyes from one detail to the next.

The Exterior of the Old Library:

The Stairway:





By the time we left though I was almost in tears. I was in the middle of a class on Special Collections and Rare Book Librarianship and was less than thrilled with some of the discussions that had ensued, mainly the ones regarding how much funding kept getting cut from libraries and how little places there were left for specialist librarians. This old library was just another stab to the heart, how many more libraries like this could we expect? How long could we expect these old libraries (or any libraries for that matter)  to be revered? I got a little boost from remembering my first visit to the city and the amazing Library Center I had seen then, but I have to be honest and say that my outlook was still not all rainbows and sunshine.

Lately libraries have been even more in the public eye with so many proposed budget cuts that would see the dwindling budgets of libraries threatened even more. Being in the library/librarian profession most of the people I know are completely against these cuts, but based on the lack of response that I had seen in the public I wasn't too hopeful that enough people cared (or cared enough to fight about it).

The last couple of days have given me a little more strength though. First I was sent an article which, while a little romanticized at times (pot calling the kettle black perhaps), has such a positive message as to why libraries are needed that I couldn't help but feel a little more chipper. Perhaps we stood a chance. Then there was a report on Fox news that, while I can't agree with so many that it was completely horrid, did have some harsh things to say about libraries. The report struck even more of a chord with me though because it focused in on the Chicago Public Library shining beacon of hope!

What happened after this though was so exciting to me, I mean after all it did inspire this entire, completely long-winded blog post. Not only were many people, general public people -  patrons, leaving comment after comment on how awful it would be to cut the budget of the libraries, but also there came a response from the Chicago Public Library Commissioner that was so insightful and intelligent as to why libraries are necessary to the public. So, while it might be a long battle ahead (and an uphill one at that) I have to say that it is responses like this one that make me feel like I have that fight in me. I just hope that others have that fight in them too!

*cap supplied by Jessica Hische at DailyDropCap    

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