Thursday, 17 May 2012

Whirlwind tour...

I've now had my first taste of libraries in the American Midwest. I've also tried something called a "Javalanche", some "Crack Fries" and Founders "Double Trouble" IPA!

It has been impressive to see that even this relatively small town (which was essentially mere corn fields until around 150 years ago) has put so much into its libraries. The main public library of the eight branch Grand Rapids Public Libaries (GVPL) system is a grand building. Dating back to 1904, it took the Victoria and Albert Museum as its inspiration, with a small entrance opening out into a vast, ornate foyer for added "wow" factor. This is flanked by dual marble staircases, leading up to elegant reading rooms (pictured): 

The Main Library (one of eight public library branches in Grand Rapids)
owes some of its architecture to the Victoria & Albert Museum (below)

(Photo by Lara300 on Photobucket)

One of GRPL's reading rooms, complete with working fireplace
I had the privilege of a behind the scenes tour, where I found yet more art and sculpture (it's becoming something of a recurring theme). I was also shown around the library's furniture archive, with volumes in both English and French interspersed here with examples of the furniture itself, more of which are dotted around the building. Furniture is a big industry in Grand Rapids and has played a massive part in the growth of the town. Philanthropy is also a huge deal in the States, with almost every building having the name of some wealthy benefactor or other in front of it. 

The building was renovated in 2001 when it also had a new extension added to it. This is a bright and modern part of the building but a great deal of work has gone into ensuring this is in keeping with the rest of the building. The new area hosts some great ideas, including Book Discussion Kits, a Small Business Resources Center and a book display in the shape of a fire truck. Kids are encouraged to create their own displays too:

Toy Story display put together by children who visited the library

The new part of the buiding houses some interesting and funky artwork

Book Discussion Kits: several copies of the book can be borrwed at once.
These are stored in rucksacks which include notes all about the books..
Many of the donors who have supported libraries in Grand Rapids are related to the Steelcase company in some way. Steelcase is the seventh largest company in Grand Rapids and also sponsors the main University library at the Pew Campus, located downtown. In the year 2000, this was only the 3rd library in the USA to install an Automated Retrieval System (ARS).. which soon became an Automated Storage Retrieval System (ASRS) due to the slight acronym issue, although library staff simply call it SPOT, after the dog ("because it fetches things"). I was lucky enough to see the innards of the system which rather cleverly will retrieve a crate based upon the barcode of any requested book. The book can then be removed from the crate, borrowed and then allocated to any one of several hundred crates when it returns. 250,000 items are stored in this way at the Steelcase:

Inside the ASRS: A robot selects and retrieves crates

The Steelcase Library's main reading room includes more smart furniture
Eiona Van Gent's "Cabinet of Wonder" sits at
the very end of the Steelcase reading room
My trip has been mainly work-based so far but I did get a couple of hours to look around downtown Grand Rapids yesterday evening. My impression is of a town which is very much developing all the time. It centres around the Grand River (shown here) with a growing range of art and cultural centres on its banks, as well as historical buildings like the Gerald Ford Museum where the ex-President and his wife are buried.

Overlooking the Grand River in Downtown Grand Rapids

1 comment:

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