We all have our favorite places in Evanston, one we like to frequent summer or winter, one where we feel comfortable. My place is the Public Library. Though I would not have voted for an imitation Frank Lloyd Wright building, I find it fits into the eclectic Evanston environment. For me, the garland in the recently renovated Children’s Library just left of the main lobby says it all: “Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library.”
As a place for meetings and performances, as a place for young children to be introduced to culture through reading, even as a place for the homeless to get warm or use the washrooms to clean up, the library is a place with a heart.
s you enter the lobby, you can immediately sense the children’s area: It is extremely colorful and has a higher noise level than the rest of the building. The original building was designed by Joe Powell, a young Philadelphia architect who won first prize in a national competition; the construction documents were prepared by the firm Nagle Hartray of Chicago. The interior design of the Children’s Library is the work of the firm architectureisfun (Sharon and Peter Exley) and Nagle Hartray again prepared the construction documents.
“Colorful” is the right adjective to use to describe the space, well lit by ambient lighting. Suspended light troughs shoot up light that bounces from the ceiling, while the glare of the source is invisible. The walls are bright blue or green set off by sections of mellow gray; the columns are vivid orange, red, green or blue and the carpeting on the floor consists of areas of orange, beige, green or yellow ochre. Some of the carpet panels create a visual variety with interesting patterns of gingko leaves.
The bookcases are in scale with the children, and the computers are placed at the right height. Space flows effortlessly except when it is periodically interrupted by imaginative, colorful activity isles that invite the kids to play, rest on padded pillows, interact or become puppeteers in a mini-theater.
I am sure I have left out some of the large variety of available activities. As I wandered around, I bumped into a life-sized teddy bear leaning against the wall, and in one corner I chatted with a small boy of 13 reading on the floor to his 6-year-old sister.
Most of the children were with an adult. Of course the noise level was higher than elsewhere in the library, as expected. I discussed this with the librarians who are genuinely nice people who love their jobs and the kids. The only complaint I heard was that occasionally a parent will disappear.
Having no adult book stacks on the first floor makes the second floor adult section pleasantly quiet and one has the choice of taking the elevators or the extremely maneuverable stairs.
The new Children’s Library is a cheerful, happy, warm space run by the same friendly, devoted people who run the rest of the library. Do not miss it. The only regret I have is that I am not young enough to take full advantage of the space.