NOTE: I am in the process of moving from Iowa to North Carolina. ExLibris is on hiatus while I'm packing and moving.
REVIEW: HEART OF THE COMMUNITY: THE LIBRARIES WE LOVE
Karen Christersen and David Levinson, eds. Heart of the Community: The Libraries We Love. Berkshire Publishing Group, 2007. 0-9770159-2-0. $49.95. Reviewed by Marylaine Block
The topic of this book is obviously dear to me, since I've devoted the past 18 months to writing a book about what much-loved public libraries are doing right (The Thriving Library: Successful Strategies for Challenging Times, <http://marylaine.com/thrive.html>, to be published March 23 by Information Today). But though this gorgeous volume depicts some of the same libraries I wrote about, it does not compete with my book but complements it. The Thriving Library explains what my chosen libraries are doing; this book showcases their beauty.
Editors Karen Christensen and David Levinson wanted to feature libraries "that as a group display the full range of the diversity, potential, style, history, and contributions of libraries in the United States and Canada," "libraries that have successfully undergone change."
Reasoning that "the best people to select the libraries were people who, like us, love libraries," they solicited nominations from library users and supporters through their website, library lists and publications, and an exhibit at ALA. Nominators were asked to submit an essay describing the library's "unique and significant features," along with photos.
From over 300 entries, some of them jam-packed with newspaper articles, citizen testimonials, and photos, the editors and their advisory board winnowed the list to these 80 libraries (I suspect with considerable impassioned argument in that process). The end product, which displays the libraries geographically, in zip code order, gives each library a two-page spread of photos and text, briefly describing its history, unique circumstances, and current services.
This is a coffee table book, filled with pictures of public libraries, old and new, big and small, in a wide variety of architectural styles. There are libraries that look like churches, courthouses, storefronts, Victorian mansions, bank buildings, brick boxes, spaceports, and elegant glass and concrete fantasies.
In their light-filled interiors, you may view stained glass art and windows, cats in hats, a vintage model train, fireplaces, fanciful murals, gigantic wooden beams, historic documents, bas reliefs, soaring atria, colorful children's areas, handmade quilts, and an Italian Renaissance-style brass and oak stair railing. In the library landscaping, you may view a Japanese Haiku garden, ornamental fountains, whimsical sculptures, adjoining city parks and plazas, and a sculpted Mark Twain, sitting in a garden beside a pile of books.
There are, of course, plenty of books and computers and study tables and comfortable seating on view here as well. And people - the library users whose comfort and delight is what these libraries are all about.
Scattered throughout the book are eloquent testimonials to libraries, quotes you'll want to make use of, from Bill Gates, Toni Morrison, Elie Wiesel, Walt Disney, Kurt Vonnegut, and many more luminaries.
You don't even have to love libraries to enjoy this book; anyone who admires architecture and good design will find much to admire here. Which means the book is also an outstanding way to give non-users reason to thinkt they might have been missing out on something wonderful.
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Book lovers will understand me, and they will know too that part of the pleasure of a library lies in its very existence
Jan Morris. Quoted in Heart of the Community: The Libraries We Love.
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