Sunday, March 14, 2010

Stranger In A Strange Land

Whenever I’m traveling I always make it a point to go to the local library. I’ve visited libraries throughout New England, the South, the Far West and Alaska. Sometimes it’s the main and sometimes it’s a branch. It’s not hard to locate a library when you’re traveling but a quick internet search is usually a good idea. You can get directions and also find out the hours of operation prior to your trip.

I do have a loose criteria of things I look for whenever I visit a new library. A good place to start is to determine if the building is open and inviting. Lots of windows and plenty of artificial lighting help in this area. Next, can you easily figure out where things are? The main circ desk is almost always right in front of you so that’s easy to locate. You might then need to wander around a bit to find things, but that’s all to the good. I usually look for, in no particular order, adult fiction, non-fiction, main reading room, periodicals, public computer terminals, children’s room and rest rooms.

Once I’ve figured out where these places are I often walk thought each section looking for particulars: Is their a separate young adult section? Is there a separate rest room for children? Are the public computers located near the main reading room? Are there places for reference or research? Do you have to use stairs to get to certain collections? Is there a paperback section? Is the main collection divided into different genre such as mysteries, thrillers, westerns or are they all mixed together. Most local libraries also have something unique about themselves or their community. So, for fun, I try to figure out what that might be. And I look for a public coffee station.

But there is more to a library then mere bricks and books. Once in, you want to figure out what is expected of you. Many public libraries now refer to themselves as the “community’s living room”. As you might have guessed this is a hotly debated issue in library publications and among boards and staff. It quickly gets to the heart of what a community expects from their library and what a library can expect from it’s patrons. Since you are a stranger in a strange land and do not wish to roil the natives by committing a faux pas what is an unsuspecting visitor to do in these uncharted waters? Never fear, an easy way to determine if you’re going to be shushed or smiled at is to figure out what is the appropriate volume for speaking. By doing so you will have a good indication of what this particular library expects from you. And in return you now hold the key to what will allow you to have the most pleasant experience possible while visiting this particular library. Just remember the appropriate volume level may change depending on which section of the library you’re in and when in doubt do what any gracious visitor does: take the cue from your host.

If you’ve visited a cool library be sure to add a comment.

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