3 Libraries I Love/3 Bibliotecas que amo

My love affair with libraries stretches back to childhood. Our mother would take us every week to peruse the shelves of our local library a mile away down the Minnehaha Parkway in Minneapolis. When I was elementary school aged, I’d check out as many hard bound and soft bound stories as I could carry from our book haven. Usually the pile was a dozen high. Back home I’d become what my dad called, “a hot house plant.” I’d stay inside on beautiful days to immerse myself in imagination. Clifford, the Big Red Dog was a favorite of mine at that point. So big, so loveable, so clumsy, but loyal as the day was long to his little Susie. Then, I entered into the magic kingdoms of the Yellow Fairy Book and the Blue Fairy Book.

[Para leer este ensayo en español, mira aquí.]

When I hit my mythology craze in sixth grade, the library was key. I read collections from every tradition and culture I could find. Greek and Roman stories were easy to locate. Fascinated, I memorized the names of ancient gods and goddesses. For other cultures I found fewer books. I was able to find tales from Russian, American Indian and Chinese cultures. I reveled in the uniqueness and universality of the tales.

In high school and college, I began to study in libraries. Ah, the lovely quiet of those days. I learned facts, read texts and summarized them in notes. At the University of Texas, my favorite place to turn my pages of Spanish and Latin American literature was the Architecture Library. Wooden beams lined the high ceiling and large windows flooded the study room with the light of new ideas.

What of libraries in South America? I don’t have extensive experience, but I can tell you about one in Brazil and one in Chile. Evan and I were lucky enough to meet a wonderful Brazilian friend when we lived in Chile. She invited us to visit her home town of Sao José do Rio Preto, Brazil. We happily accepted and enjoyed the time we spent with her and her mom, a sweet person who was a fabulous cook. They took us on a tour of their city and showed us one of the most unique libraries we’ve seen. To me, it looked like a giant spider, with five legs.

sao jose do rio preto 1
A great modern library in Sao José do Rio Preto, Brazil

In Chile, we entered in one public library in the comuna of Providencia, Santiago, where we resided. Its use was restricted to people who lived in that particular district. In order to enter, we had to prove our address was within the same area. I asked if a postcard would work and they laughed. The only “official” bill we were mailed at that time was for the internet. Gladly, that worked as our open sesame to the Biblioteca de Providencia.

Back in the USA, Wisconsin has great public libraries. I often write my blog at the Monona Library because it has a wonderful quiet room with floor to ceiling windows.

Monona Library’s wall of windows high above the ground on white column stilts

The world language section of the library for children is not extremely large, but it has books originally written in Spanish and good translations of popular books written in English like those by Mo Willems and JK Rowling.

¡Hoy volaré! “Today I Will Fly!” by Mo Willems

Our closest library is downtown. The whole family will trek there walking, biking, on the bus or in our Chevy Volt. We borrow books, movies, use the library computers, and I write there on paper or electronically. I love the modern feel of the building, the beautiful furnishings and art. People from 0 to 100 of all races and orientations are welcome. It feels like the best part of our democracy.

Glass walls and a big question mark of the Central Madison Library building

The children’s section in the basement is very fanciful and fun. Several “reading caves” are under the stairs and they are filled with kids each time we visit.

Two cave-like reading nooks, one purple, another orange, under the stairs in the children’s section

Bilingual stairs! Our child loves this. Kids walk or jump up the stairs shouting, “uno, dos, tres!” The numbers in English are on the left hand side, outside the photo.

Concrete stairs labeled with the numbers 1-10 in Spanish

For adults and children, I am passionate about these sanctuaries of knowledge. Libraries are resources to promote equality, they are the base of our intellectual development, they are islands of calm in a frantic world. To live without them would be to not live well. Happy International Library Day!

Thanks to the blog Crónicas de Otro Mundo for proposing the library theme in honor of International Library Day! ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Hola, y gracias for visiting! What’s your favorite library or favorite place to read? Write me a note below por favor.

Para leer este ensayo en español, haz un clic aquí.

Rebecca Cuningham

25 thoughts on “3 Libraries I Love/3 Bibliotecas que amo

      1. Most libraries in my area are either large old buildings or low modern on one floor constructions. Nothing like the ones in your photographs 😊


  1. I didn’t expect to find a place so full of freshness and originality. I really enjoyed your post. Nice to follow a site with so many interesting articles. I have libraries embbeded deep inside my heart, just like you. Greetings.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Lothrandir. I have been surprised as well at the artfulness of the designs and the intentional creation of libraries as functioning community spaces. I appreciate very much your compliments on my website and articles. Bienvenido y gracias por tu apoyo, amigo de las bibliotecas! Rebecca

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is very weird… Let’s see… I was wondering how the libraries were coping with the E-revolution. I have very fond memories of the Business Library in Bidgood Hall during Grad school. Doing research with the card index! In those vintage wooden filing cabinets. I’d found a small, lone table in the staircase with a minute window to the Quad. Perfect. I made it my private office for the duration of my MBA.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reposting your comment – it was mysterious how typing a response made it disappear! What I had written was that keeping up with electronic media is an important for libraries. Here in Madison libraries are great equalizers for access to the internet, computers, videos, digital readers and e-books. I think that’s a fantastic way to serve the community. Interesting you found a hidden nook with a window in Bidgood Hall, I did the same thing at UT! Gracias, Rebecca

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There are magic corners in every library. Along with magic books forgotten on distant shelves. I’m sure Lovecraft’s Necronomicon is hidden there somewhere.
        It’s nice to hear that libraries have made the leap. They’re too important institutions to disappear. Especially in this age of growing ignorance.
        Where’s UT? Tennessee? 🙂
        ‘Ta luego “Rebe”. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

      2. True, libraries enchant their patrons, inspiring them to pursue lifelong quests to find
        Necronomicon or Borges’ mythical encyclopedia… UT Austin is in Texas. That’s where Evan and I met. Great city. Wonderful libraries. Hasta pronto, Ciao, R

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The Central Madison Library is absolutely stunning! And I must say, the reading caves look perfect for anyone who wants to feel like they’re reading books at home 🙂 I wish there were libraries like these in my country. Unfortunately, our choice of books don’t cover those in the Spanish language x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments Shana. There were hundreds of donors who supported the Central library reconstruction in addition to the city’s investment. The architects made wonderful plans for the building. Much of it is made from simple materials like concrete. Fortunately there are tremendous online resources to read in Spanish. One great example is https://www.ngenespanol.com/
      Saludos, Rebecca

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Such wonderful libraries! I have my favourites too and should write a blog about them. I will never forget my first visit to a library in the city. I would stock up every time we went to town and take my stack home to the farm. I also would be found reading instead of playing outside or doing my chores. Thank heaven for libraries!!


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