I don't go to the library enough. Strange to hear that coming from me, a booklover, but it's true.
This last sunday, I went with my partner, Lisa Morton, to the downtown central branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. I was enthralled. Of course, I have been to this branch many times since it re-opened in 2001 (and re-named after then L.A. mayor Richard Riordan), but this visit was different. I felt like I was seeing this great library for the first time.
Originally constructed in 1926, the Riordan library is the third largest library in the U.S. It was designed in a mock Egyptian style by architect Bertram Goodhue and then re-designed in a Mission Style after a terrible arson fire in 1986 (the largest library fire in U.S. history). The expanded and re-designed Central library opened in 1991 with 71 Branch Libraries throughout Los Angeles County. I was fortunate enough to visit the library during a six-month stay in Los Angeles back in 1983. I used to have breakfast at The Pantry (one of L.A's oldest deli style restaurants) and then walk to the library where I would spend most of the day wandering among the stacks and reading. I remember the old library fondly: wonderful light and space; comfortable chairs; quiet. You could feel the history of downtown Los Angeles in the building.
But the new library is much better. The design is modern and up to date, while still keeping that sense of openness, quiet and light. This new version simply invites you to sit down and read. Everywhere you look there is a comfortable reading nook. The chairs are wonderful green leather and shaped perfectly for reading. Study carols, tables with soft light, nooks and crannies fill the structure.
Lisa and I spent most of our time on the bottom floor in the History sections where she researched background information for her first novel "Netherworld". The staff were uniformly helpful. There were tours of the library going on at the time, some in Spanish. There were many people using the computer terminals and searching through the stacks. I found myself looking for interesting book titles and came across two books on the famous Zapruder film of the Kennedy Assassination that I took home. I was tempted to ask to look at some of the antique maps housed in large cases near us, but it was Sunday and I didn't want the staff to have to go to all that trouble. When it came time to leave, I was disappointed. It's too bad they don't have cots for people like me who want to stay at the library overnight.
While searching in the open stacks, Lisa found an amazing old book, "Treaty Ports of China and Japan" by Wm Fred. Mayers, N.B.Dennys and Chas. King., London, Trubner and Co. 1867. She has her lead heroine visiting Shanghai around this time and wanted to gather details that her heroine might notice. This book had been rebound in a library binding, but was in excellent shape. There were several color maps of China and various cities, plus one large map that was damaged. She took notes and decided to check the internet for a copy she could buy for herself. Much to our surprise, this book is exceedingly rare and the sole copy we found online was going for over $2,000. I think we'll print out our info and head back to the library soon to let them know they've got to pull this book from the general stacks and put it in their rare book room.
I love the new Riordan library and with the subway an easy walk away, I can go down there just about any Sunday. I think I'll get back into the habit of breakfast and the library. This time I'll be going with my gal, Lisa. I can't wait to go back.