Sunday, August 25, 2013

Westward Ho!

Welcome back to my blog, y’all!  I had a great time in the mountains the past couple weeks, exploring Denver and that playground of the rich, Aspen.  I also visited some relatively more rustic and rugged locales in and around Pitkin and Eagle counties, hiking, eating, and taking way too many low-quality pictures.

If I’m traveling, it means I’m visiting libraries, for my edification and for yours!  And I explored some great ones out in Colorado.  The three that I was able to spend time in felt like they had a lot in common: they provided clean, peaceful environments for research and study, a variety of innovative programs, and each seemed suspiciously like they had been built or remodeled in the past couple of decades.  I thought this especially interesting since the three libraries served different population sizes and types of communities: one was the vast Denver Central Library, the next the modest, rural Basalt Public Library, and the third the Pitkin County Library, a hub of posh Aspen itself.  To me this speaks of a unity of mission of libraries in the state as well as an encouraging unity of support from the community.  Granted, three libraries does not a thorough investigation of a state make, and all three are in the orbit of some of the most monied people in America (at least for part of the year), but I thought that the consistency of excellence across these three distinct libraries must be indicative of a supportive environment.

(My theories of a unified environment are further borne out by Colorado Libraries Collaborate, a statewide resource sharing initiative sparked by libraries volunteering to pool their materials for the good of the people of the Centennial State.  That’s my kind of ethos!)

I won’t bore you with the details of my trips through each library, but I did want to call out a few of the coolest features I noted!

Located just down the street from my hostel and at the confluence of downtown and a somewhat less affluent area, this central library seems perfectly situated to serve the needs of a big city’s diverse population.  The building itself, completed in the mid-90s, is beautiful, constructed in a style I have come to recognize as de rigueur in classy mountain design--stained hardwood, rustic touches, clean lines.  It’s a very inviting edifice.

The coolest thing about the long central entry hall is the automated conveyor belt book return.  So neat!  Thrill to the sight of librarians scurrying about behind glass like ants in a charming childhood memory.  Seriously, though, opening up this ‘behind the scenes’ business of the library is a great bit of outreach.

Off in one corner was another interesting touch: power check meters available for patrons to check out.  Perhaps not unexpected in a crunchy city like Denver, but I thought this was really cool.  Seems like the kind of thing a lot of well-intentioned people might think about getting around to doing someday, but never do it because--well, where do you start to figure out how to check your power usage?  The library takes the question away and hands you the tool to do it.  Fo’ free.

Obviously, me being me, I had to check out the graphic novel collection.  It was pretty sizable and seemed focused on adult, literary titles, including some I’d never encountered before.  They’re also arranged on a series upright racks with mostly outward-facing shelving, making browsing a breeze.  No chance here of that old problem of freezing in the face of an over-stuffed shelf full of wee little spines.  

I was probably most excited about visiting this little rural library, since it hosts one of my favorite innovative services--a seed library!

But first, again, the building itself is lovely.  Possibly the loveliest I’ve encountered, all earthy greens and browns and surrounded by bright mountain flowers that just invite you to roll around in them like an oxygen-starved puppy.

This library struck me as a true gathering-place and central community repository for a spread-out area, its bulletin boards overflowing with notices for events near and far.  And it’s just comfy, with big windows letting in plenty of mountain light over a fireplace-equipped sitting area.  One section of the library was given over as a ‘business center’ with staplers, paper cutters, and so forth, a feature that neither I nor my fellow librarian companion had ever seen before.  And in a sop to my Pagan heart, a Lunar phases poster was tacked to one wall!

The star of the show is the seed library, though, which ended up being a slightly unassuming-looking area right in the front of the building.  Unassuming, but brilliant and, by all accounts, effective.  For the uninitiated, a seed library is just what it sounds like: a way for folks to share seeds and grow their own food, “borrowing” the seeds from the library that they then “return” in the form of the seeds from their harvest.  The library here offers delicious-sounding seasonal veggies and some flowers, with one stated goal being the adaptation, from generation to generation, of these plants to the local environment.  And again, this is a service that might provide on-the-fence patrons with the means, and thus the excuse, to finally get started on a long-considered project.  Library as to-do list trimmer FTW!

What I liked about this one was the veritable explosion of adult and teen programming available.  All over the boards and their digital video screen were notices of upcoming events in the library and the community: adult story time, a tattoo talk, teen read-alikes.  They are all presented very professionally--someone on staff is good with design--and cover an interestingly broad range of topics.  Very nicely done.

The graphic novel section is much more super hero-y here, which I certainly enjoy, though the all-ages items are tucked away in the teen section.  I might make a different decision there, but perhaps space is a concern.

The extensive music collection downstairs offers not only popular and classical musical recordings, but a very impressive spread of music-related books.  Biographies on Brahms rub shoulders here with Beatles songbooks.  Aspen is, after all, the home of the Aspen Music School and Festival, an annual masterclass that brings upcoming talent together with some of the greatest names in contemporary classical performance, and a town where you can often find fresh-faced young musicians shredding away at their violins and cellos on street corners, giving you a taste of impromptu selections of Sibelius and classic rock and contemporary pop in between your pit-stops at Rocky Mountain Chocolates.  (Mmmm, chocolate-covered oreo…)  Appropriately enough, the library has a complete collection of Aspen Music Festival recordings available for your historical listening pleasure--though access is, reasonably enough, restricted.  (And, music students, please mind the signs posted and addressed to you on all major exits: return library materials before leaving for the summer!)

Thus ended my exploration of Colorado public libraries.  I’m quite impressed by what I’ve seen, and if the whole state is filled with such vital, responsive institutions, I’m jealous indeed of all you Coloradans out there--rivers of hail notwithstanding.  (What is up with that, anyway?)

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