By Susan Rose, Cambridge, Ethical Society Without Walls
I’m in heaven. Well, actually, I’m at the library. The Cambridge Public Library. The new and improved main Cambridge Public Library.
Today I got to go on a tour of the new library with a group of clergy in Cambridge. This might be the best perk I’ve ever had as a clergywoman. We started with a meeting in the morning, getting to hear about several important things in the city including the efforts being made to help the many residents here who are originally from Haiti and the importance of responding to the federal census.
The meeting was in a big, modern room in the basement. Nothing all that special. So when we had the first stop on the tour, I was pleased to see a well-designed, very accessible auditorium. Then onto the top floor of the library.
When we stepped off the elevator into a big open, airy space with lots of windows and a great view of Cambridge I remembered having heard as a child that people in Ethical Culture didn’t think there was a heaven (or a hell), but if there was a heaven, it would be like the public library. This space, with creative furniture, a rug looking like stones that I’d like to have in my living room, and great displays of books was so inviting. Lots of thought went into planning this space and the enjoyment of the youngest residents of Cambridge was the result.
One floor down was the quiet floor complete with a silent room. Good. I don’t like that there is no longer much expectation to be quiet in a library. My worst “disciplinary infractions” as a youngster were violating quiet library policies when I was in junior high school. My friends and I would go to the library pretty much every day after school to do our homework and hangout. Poor Mr. Sparkman, who had a group of smart, studious and giggly girls to contend with every day. But still, the library is where you are supposed to be quiet.
Except for on the first floor of the library which is designed to give life to the mission of the library - to be the civic heart of the community; there Cantebridgians are encouraged to connect and talk with one another. There are spaces to sit and eat, there are places to plug in your laptop, or use the library’s computers, and there are books artfully arranged so that you just want to read them all. My only regret is knowing I’ll never have the time to read them all, but it is energizing just to be around them and know that others are enjoying the space and books too.
The building is designed with environmental standards in mind and they are expecting to receive LEED certification at the silver level. They have linked the old library with the new modern structure; murals that were done as part of the WPA have been given new life. How appropriate to honor the past and look towards the future.
I feel very fortunate to live in a city which values education and community and making them both available to all who live here. And as the head of the library told us on the tour, she sees a lot of people smiling here.
Another childhood memory evoked today is of the song the Brooklyn Public Library used as a theme song in commercials. It started “Oh, the place for you and the place for me is the local public library,” and it ends “It’s a way of life, it’s for you and me, it’s the latest, it’s the greatest, it’s the library.” I think supporting and using libraries is a pretty good way of life.
This library could certainly work as heaven for me. Do you have a favorite library?
What’s your idea of heaven? Let us know.