If you were airdropped, blindfolded, into a strange town and given nothing but a bus ticket, to where would you ride that bus? You might be surprised to learn that there’s only one good answer, and that’s the public library. The library is the public living room, and if ever you are stripped of everything private—money, friends and orientation—you can go there and become a human again. Of course, you don’t have to be homeless to use a library, but that’s the point. You don’t have to be anyone in particular to go inside and stay as long as you want, sit in its armchairs, read the news, write your dissertation, charge your phone, use the bathroom, check your email, find the address of a hotel or homeless shelter. Of all the institutions we have, both public and private, the public library is the truest democratic space.
Inside the Boston Public Library’s astonishing and colorful transformation.
The first thing you notice about the renovation of the second floor of the Johnson Building at the Boston Public Library’s central Copley
Square facility—which officially opens with a ribbon-cutting starring
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Saturday morning—is the color.
“What was here before this renovation was what was there in 1972. The
carpet was the same carpet,” says Michael Colford, director of library
services, the number two job in the Boston Public Library system. “We
had brown panels. We had gray granite. … There was never any color.”
Consider that: The blocky, brawny library addition designed by star
New York architect Philip Johnson at the corner of Boylston and Exeter
streets hadn’t been updated since it opened four decades ago. And “There
was never any color.” Over years of wear and tear, the Johnson Building
came to have a dreary, alienating warehouse feel—emphasized by the
contrast with the library’s original 1895 building next door, the ornate
National Landmark beaux-arts temple designed by architect Charles Follen McKim.
The renewed second floor—the first phase of an ongoing renovation of the Johnson Building—radiates warm reds, purples, greens. It arrives as a
surprise and a wonder. The redesign by the Boston architectural firm,
William Rawn Associates, and being built by Consigli Construction,
headquartered in Milford, offers a new Children’s Library, teen room,
adult nonfiction shelves and lots of cozy places to sit. It’s sleek,
colorful, mod, with lots of sunlight streaming in. The driving
philosophy is to make the giant library more like a lounge or café, a
cozy comfortable place. Coffee and snacks are welcome.“We’re trying to create a space where people want to hang out and be
in. Librarians are more mobile,” Colford says. “Through the whole
Internet age, people now more than ever want to come together and be a
That one time I dined in a library and it was perfect: Lunch at the Courtyard Restaurant, Boston Public Library [More Boston] [More Dine Out Boston]
Quiet, clinking cutlery amidst slanted winter light filtering through silk curtains. Amuse bouche served on newspapered books. Leafing through menus and wonderfully worn words, and finding quotes in unexpected places. Finding immense enjoyment in purusing the book trolley.
Let it snow! Residents of Boston braving the snow covered streets and parks during blizzards in the 1920s-30s. Plus, another all-weather worker–a horse with a broken snow-removal cart by South Station.
Source images (1, 2, 3, 4) from Boston Public Library and Digital Commonwealth.