I used to deliver Meals on Wheels to a delightful, elderly woman who loved to read so much, and who was so beloved by her neighborhood public library that, once a week, an employee delivered a bagful of the newest mysteries to her house. Her local library probably hadn’t changed much in the 70 years since it issued her its very first library card. In those days—as in later decades of the 20th century—libraries were generally traditional-looking buildings with a certain Norman-Rockwell charm, built to utilitarian standards.
More recently, though, some visionary architects and organizations have created libraries that not only store and preserve books, but also celebrate them by enveloping their collections in structures that are creative, imaginative, inspirational and flat-out glorious to look at.
At Web Urbanist, you can see 14 amazing libraries built in the past 20 or so years. More than simply book repositories, they offer expansive physical spaces filled with light [filtered, of course, to protect the books], and welcoming to researchers, book lovers and visitors. Their imaginative designs seem to symbolize how words, writing and ideas expand human knowledge. Web Urbanist even describes one as a “learning accelerator.”
If, in the digital age, books are dead and these are their tombs, they are grand burial grounds worthy of the literary gods. But I can’t help thinking that they are much more, that the designers and funders of these beautiful buildings are sending us a message, reminding us of the importance of learning and reason in sustaining a humane, enlightened society.
Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of progressive values as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.