World tour of my favorite libraries

I love to read. I have read widely and incessantly, until almost the moment I learned how when I was five. I always had my nose in a book. I am on a first name basis with the librarians. I know the names of their children and I know the names of their dogs. My library card gets lost, wrinkled, washed, fades, because I use it so much.

My first library was the East Greenwich Free Library built in 1914 but it was organized in 1867. This fine old stone building hosted high counters and stern library ladies and the place was intimidating, but also a magnet so I could not stay away. To me, THIS is what a library was: polished mahogany walls, granite counters, rows and rows of books on a dusty plank floor…and my first library card.

My next hometown library was the North Kingstown Free Library. I have special feelings about this one because it was where my sister learned to read. She and I would go for long sessions at the library, browsing and reading all afternoon. Best of all, the library is on a cove and we would sit by the water, under the trees, and feed the ducks afterward. We were close, then.

Who can’t love the New York City Public library? Iconic, stately, the nation’s library, it sits in mid-town Manhattan like a dowager who has seen it all but still retains her everlasting charm. I finally had the opportunity to visit this library when a friend and I attended a national journalism conference in Manhattan at Park Avenue. We were just a half a block from it so in between journalism sessions, we grabbed a sandwich and strolled over. My only goal for the trip in terms of sightseeing was to see the fabled NY Library reading room. We ate in the sunshine on the steps, watching the hurrying people and listening to the reverberations in the concrete canyons, and then we walked inside up the granite steps, heard the echoing halls, made our way up stately stairs, and arrived at the mahogany doors to the reading room. Ta-da! A pinned sign said “Closed for renovations.” This shot is from the lobby inside, looking out to the famous steps and up Park Ave.

The Providence Athenaeum is a private library built in 1753. What a library!!!!!!! When you think of Victorian London men’s club library, this is it. The interior has a skylight atrium in the center and rimming it is a second story with wrought iron railings and wood floors. You can walk the stacks on the upper level and look straight down to the Persian rugs on the first. In the regular stacks there are ladders on rollers that clack as you roll them to the spot where you want to reach high for just the right book. The reading room on the lower floor is gorgeous, dominated by a large portrait of George Washington, pained by Gilbert Stuart (a RI native). Edgar Allan Poe composed and proposed here, to Sarah Helen Whitman, a famous poet herself and an Athenaeum supporter. There is an interesting story about those two, their romance in the Athenaeum stacks, here.

But the best library of all has no mahogany, no history, no architectural charm, no poets, no lake and no ducks. It is the Madison County Public Library and it is my new reading home. Thank you Madison County library ladies, for your wonderful niceness and all your great books.

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