My husband and I moved to our neighborhood in Chicago about one year ago. I have had my “to-do” list of places I planned to visit and explore in the city, and an old library near our place had been at the top of it for a while.
It’s an old, internationally-recognized library just a few blocks west of Lake Michigan. In Chicago, old buildings are informally referred to either as “Pre-Great-Fire” or “Post-Great-Fire,” referring to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that left most of the city as little more than charred and ashy ruins. This old library is built on the property of a former home that stood “Pre-Great-Fire,” so that alone makes it a source of pride for Chicagoans. But in addition to being one of the few stalwart structures to have its origins from before that blaze, it is world-class in its collection and its exhibits.
I walked in on a hot, humid, drizzly day last week. Immediately on entering, you feel the cool air that seems to bounce off of the light, bright marble walls. In front of the sweep of the wide, curving staircase, a security guard welcomes you and checks your bag, and then you are free to wander as you like. The rooms, hallways, and exhibition rooms are quiet, filled with nothing more than the occasional whisper. There’s that awesome smell that all libraries seem to have in common – the smell of old paper pressed together on shelf after shelf. The smell of books. There’s that intangible, inaudible electric current that seems to pulse through all libraries – the energy of focus, of study, of purpose.
In college I loved to spend time in the library. Actually. The week before Final Exams, the week called “Reading Week,” when classes were done and all you had to do was study for Finals, was actually one of my favorite times of the school year. I loved getting to the library early enough in the day that I could stake my place in a small private nook and curl up with my books and notebooks. I loved the smell of the books, the silence that allowed me to focus completely on what was before me, the cloistered privacy that encourages its occupants to do nothing but read.
I’m so glad I finally became a member at this library – it’s going to be a great place in which to work on my next few projects. Do you have an old gem in your neighborhood that you’ve been hankering to visit?