If you had to pick just one public library, just ONE, in all of America, might I suggest the Central Library of Kansas City Public Library’s system? This library is, hands down, one of the best libraries I have had the privilege to visit. Last fall, I was in KC for a conference for cataloging librarians, and KCPL was the selected site for our evening cocktail hour. Imagine this: it’s Friday evening and the library’s closed, but roughly about 100 librarians or so have free rein to explore the library. Kids in a candy shop doesn’t even begin to describe the atmosphere of giddiness I experienced.
The architecture and design are perfection. It is very ornate and detailed, keeping in touch with its historic roots as the First National Bank. But at the same time, modern renovations are evident. The youth section is beautifully decorated with a welcoming entrance with quotes about libraries from popular kids’ books (think Hermione and her reverence for the library).
There were study spaces aplenty with ample room for meetings to take place. The collections fabulous–downstairs upon entering, we spotted the popular periodicals and the fiction easily. That is such a marvelous and common sense thing to do. For a building as grand as the Central Branch, you don’t want to alienate those wandering into the library by putting some stodgy reference collection at first glance. No, the first things patrons see here are the magazines, rows of manga and graphic novels, urban fiction, and more. But for those who are feeling more scholarly, head up to the higher floors for some spectacular stacks. I found several runs of well-known journals in print! How often do you have a chance to commune with Nature?
Even cooler, the basement level is home to the Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault, where there is a small theater for film viewings. Our film club here in OKC would be so, so jealous. There’s also a coffee shop, special collections archive, computers to use, books upon books, access to numerous databases, and everything anyone could possibly need from a library.
A sense of place is very important to what constitutes an excellent library. You want people to come to you for their information needs? Then your library needs to be easily accessible and welcoming — I mean, how can you not want to go to a library with giant book spines on their parking garage? Central Library does both very well.
I am grateful for my visit here and hope to return one day. In the meantime, Central Library raises a giant ‘FU’ to all those naysayers who think libraries are doomed by serving as a beautiful, welcoming space with superb access to many kinds of resources.