boston public library


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.

Federal funding for libraries is down nearly 40 percent since 2000. Our democracy may never wholly recover


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 community.”

Read more about  the redesign at


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. 

And the food? Equally marvellous.