If we downsize in retirement, as Glen and I did, we need to adapt to small spaces. This process involves efficient furnishing, putting every square inch to maximum use. But it also means devising ways to spend time — and not always money — away from our home, to ensure our walls do not feel confining.
In Vancouver and Scottsdale, libraries are my go-to place. They’re free, welcoming, comprehensive and open to all. From providing collections of books, periodicals, movies, music etc., libraries have evolved into centres of creativity, local and global connections, accessible learning. Since they now help to bridge the digital divide, many patrons value access to computers and the Internet as much as to the collections. I, however, like sitting among readers — of hard copy that is. In cafés, everyone’s using a device. In libraries, many people, myself included, read newspapers, magazines, novels, while sipping water or coffee. A culture shift occurred once libraries allowed beverages through their doors; they became an alternative hangout to Starbucks et al.
The journey to my libraries, each within walking distance, is as pleasant as the destination. Once there, when not ensconced in a chair reading, I’m at a free workshop on social media, genealogy, Photoshop and more. I also attend various lectures as libraries fulfil yet another aspect of community engagement. Given our small spaces, we no longer house large collections of books and DVDs (part of downsizing). We borrow, not buy, and have enjoyed several TV series from the Library. I’ve also explored for free a new genre: the mystery novel.
- The Scottsdale Library makes readily available Culture Passes that give free admission for two to 14 attractions in the Valley. Though not as easy to obtain, Inspiration Passes at the Vancouver Library offer complimentary entry to 27 venues.
- The Vancouver Library loans out instruments — for example, violins, guitars, keyboards, ukuleles — to play at home.
- Libraries dedicate space and feature programming for children and teenagers.
- Libraries often house galleries that display rotating exhibitions by artists and community groups.
Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American industrialist, business tycoon and philanthropist, laid the groundwork for public libraries. In the late 19th century he declared the best gift to any community is a free, or “public,” library. To demonstrate his belief that educational opportunities should be open to all, he donated over $56 million, between 1883 and 1929, to build 2,509 Carnegie libraries around the world (1,689 in the U.S. and 125 in Canada). He paid for construction in localities that committed funding for operations, maintenance and repairs.
The Carnegie buildings typically followed a standardized style called “Carnegie Classic“: a rectangular, T-shaped or L-shaped structure of stone or brick, with rusticated stone foundations and low-pitched, hipped roofs, with space allocated by function and efficiency. The buildings welcomed patrons to enter through a prominent doorway, nearly always accessed via a staircase. The entry staircase symbolized a person’s elevation by learning and a lamppost or lantern out front represented enlightenment.
In addition to museums and churches, many libraries rate as top attractions on TripAdvisor and other travel sites. Some are lauded for their historic grandeur. Others, designed more recently, not only satisfy new requirements of the public space but also present bold, architectural statements. Indeed Architectural Digest lists Calgary’s $245-million downtown Central Library as one of the 12 most anticipated buildings to open in 2018.
World renowned architect Moshe Safdie designed Vancouver’s Library Square that opened in 1995. The Colosseum-inspired building combines the old with the new and is the only library in Canada to be ranked (by Travel + Leisure) as one of the 20 most beautiful libraries in the world. The huge skylit concourse, containing shops and cafés, acts as an urban gathering point.
During Canadian Library Month in October and National Library Week in the U.S. in April, libraries get acknowledged for the valuable role they play in our communities. Do you take advantage of your local library? •
P.S. The first Carnegie library in the U.S. opened in 1889 in Braddock PA with a grant of $358,000, the first in Canada in 1903 in Windsor ON with a grant of $27,000.