Monday, January 7, 2013

St. Louis Central Library

In my last post I said that I needed to branch out to new branches of my local public library system.  On Saturday I visited the St. Louis Central Library in downtown St. Louis.  Designed by Cass Gilbert (who was also the architect for the United States Supreme Court) and made possible by a generous grant from Andrew Carnegie, Central Library was built in 1912.   During most of my life it was one of those libraries that was not meant to be used for browsing.  You looked up books in the voluminous card catalogs and put in requests at the central desk and waited for them to be retrieved from the stacks.   When you put in requests from your local branch, this was generally where they came from.

As a Girl Scout we went on a tour of Central Library.  The stacks had glass floors.  That sounds somewhat cooler than it was; they were heavy glass block floors not plate glass.  But still, it was unexpected.  Books were retrieved and sent to the main desk via a pneumatic tube system.

Of course glass floors aren't earthquake proof so when the Public Library system decided to do a $70 million renovation of Central Library the glass floors had to go.  As did all the central stacks.  It is now a "regular" library where you can browse the collection, which makes it much more user friendly.

I forgot to take a photo of the outside so here is a wikipedia photo taken before Central Library was shut down two years ago for the renovation:


Although the building looks like a standard building it actually is an oval shaped central hall that is connected to four surrounding rectangular galleries via "bridges", thus letting in lots of light to the interior of the building.

The above is the front entrance on Olive Street.  You walk into very formal space, all marble.  On either side of the foyer are stairs to take you up to other levels with beautiful stained glass windows:

Then you walk through a hallway that is really a "bridge" into the oval grand hall, where you used to have to ask for books.  I only took a  photo of the ceiling and the windows along one side:

  If all of this seems very stuffy for a library, you are right.  It is beautiful, but not conducive to browsing.  But that's ok, there's nothing to browse in the grand hall.  They will have special exhibitions and events in there.  From the grand hall you can walk back across another "bridge" to the back of the building into what used to be the stacks.

And here's where the surprise is:  A three story modern glass enclosed atrium that shows you where all the books are:

You can now enter the library from what used to be the back of the building and go right into the "library" part of the library, without having to climb up all those steps on the Olive Street entrance.

Here's the view from the main reading room back into the atrium - see how light it is:

I've read that NY is going to do a similar thing to its central library - replace the old stacks with a light filled atrium.  I've also read that it is very controversial.  All I can say is that I LOVE the way it was done here in St. Louis. The minute I walked into the atrium I started smiling.  In fact there was a smile on my face the entire time I walked through the building and all the people who were working in the building were smiling too.

The exterior of the building has famous quotes carved into the stone.  The ceiling in the new reading room has quotes on the ceiling.  Here it says "All this happened, more or less" (Kurt Vonnegut):

 It is very cool.  When I went down to see it I didn't think that I'd be so enamored of it and it didn't occur to me that I might make it my main library stop in the future.  After all, it isn't really convenient.  But it made me want to go back and browse.
The Bookseller: The First Hugo Marston Novel CoverAs we were walking through I saw a copy of The Bookseller by Mark Pryor which I had been considering reading.  So I picked it up and checked it out on my way out!

Yes, yes.  I was going to read fewer mysteries in 2013, but I was also going to visit more libraries.

How was the book?  It was ok.  It's the first in a series and it shows.  A little too much explanation and a little too much serendipity.  I'm not sure I'll read the other books in the series but I was glad that I saw something to check out simply as I walked through the room.  Who knows what I'll find when I have time to browse?