Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ghosts of Libraries Past

I was wandering downtown a couple of months ago when I found myself walking past the old library. That statement implies that there is a new library, which there is, and which I have been in recently. The new library is nice, certainly, and this is not going to be a blog post in which I rail against the shiny and the new. I'm not that old, yet, even if some days I think I'm getting there faster than I'd like.

Then again, the shiny and new had a pretty dismal science fiction section. But that's not the point.

The new library is a good library (lack of genre fiction aside), but there is a certain something that the old one had that the new one lacks. Of course, the old one lacked things, too. Like computers and windows and light. What it had though, was charm and aesthetics. The old library looked exactly the way old libraries looked, and I kind of miss that.

It had large Roman columns out front. They might have been Doric or Ionic, but frankly I don't remember the columns - or the classifications - well enough to really say after all these years. You walked up the big stone steps outside, and then there were more steps inside until you got to the central atrium. A dark atrium, because there was no window overhead (which, come to think on it, does it still count as an atrium then?). The center circle of the circulation desk sat in the middle, and there were stairs leading off to one side, along with half a dozen entrances to half a dozen different rooms scattered around.

Including what I remember being a pretty decent genre fiction section, in a room of its own towards the front.

I also remember the children's section was downstairs, and without question the new children's room is better.

As I said it was dark, especially in comparison with a modern library, but somehow that just added to the appeal. As a kid, this was the closet thing to what I imagined a castle to be like that I got to visit. It was the oldest building, or at least the building that felt the oldest, out of any I knew. I spent a fair amount of time there, too, even if it was rather inconveniently located downtown in a city with poor public transit. I loved the way everything echoed in the main chamber, and the narrowness of the research stacks, and the odd hallways that didn't seem to go anywhere (which probably led to the library offices), and even the various artworks scattered along the hallways and in dark corners.

It was a building with personality, and character, and history. A building that could have ghosts, though as far as I know it did not. A building that could leave its own ghost, create its own afterimage in the environment.

It still stands, obviously, but is now used for federal offices. I've heard you can still go in and look around, but I don't think I want to do that. I'd rather live with the old memories.

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