Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Library as a Cultural Center - Check It Out

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Library as a Cultural Center - Check It Out

Article excerpt

Revisiting a childhood library, like going back to a childhood home, is an exercise in nostalgia. Long-ago rooms, colors, smells, and sounds, locked in the dusty attic of memory for decades, suddenly reappear as a returning pilgrim wanders through updated, now unfamiliar spaces.

For me, the library reality check took place on an April Saturday. Just inside the Rockford Public Library, where I researched school term papers and first discovered favorite books, a large banner proclaims: National Library Week. Nearby, a small plaque reads: "This building was erected through the generosity of Andrew Carnegie. AD 1903."

Yet the building I enter bears no resemblance to the $70,000 edifice Carnegie funded. In the mid-1960s that imposing two-story structure in "modern Greek style," with columns gracing the front and a copper dome arching skyward, was gutted and remodeled. Only the exterior walls remain, encased now in limestone and granite for a "modern" look. Today, heels that once clicked across bare floors are silenced by blue carpeting. And fingers that once flipped through oak drawers in the card catalog now tap computer keys for an online version. Like libraries everywhere, this one long ago ceased being simply a plain-vanilla repository of the printed word. Libraries must now offer the intellectual equivalent of 28 flavors - something for everyone. Computer, CD-ROMs, cassettes, and videos compete for space. On one floor of the Rockford library, a Job Center display focuses on careers and rsums. Another rack holds books in foreign languages. "Libros en Espaol," reads one sign. A bulletin board announces a spring book discussion series titled "The Immigrant Experience." "We're becoming more like a cultural center," says Denise Delanty, a library staff member. "We're so busy." A decade ago, fiscal crises forced some libraries to cut budgets, hours, and staff. Today, in a robust economy, the financial needs are less visible. …

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