project CENTRAL LIBRARY
It is fabled that the Library of Alexandria—history’s first great library, built by Ptolemy in the Third Century BCE—contained every book ever written, translated into every spoken language. While the truth of that is unlikely, the library did house an astounding collection, and it was a nexus for some of the ancient world’s finest poets, philosophers, scientists and mathematicians.
Libraries don’t garner the same deference they used to. Kings no longer wage war on kings to pilfer manuscripts for their personal collections. But there remains a certain majesty to libraries, particularly public ones.
For most of our civilization’s history, libraries have existed in the private sphere. It was Andrew Carnegie, in the late 19th and early 20th century, who ignited the construction of public libraries across the United States. Libraries accepting Carnegie’s money would no longer be allowed to purposefully exclude factory workers, by closing before they got off work.
Today, the public library is one of the most ubiquitous institutions in this country. They exist in every city and every small town in America. They are our filing cabinets of human imagination. They are community centers and sanctuaries for anyone who needs a warm, dry place to sit without being bothered. They stand as beacons of egalitarianism, asserting that nothing—class, race, gender, religion—should bar your access to knowledge.
The first thing you should do when you move to a new city is march yourself to the nearest library branch and get yourself a library card.
Libraries are the place you can get a book without the pressure of buying it. They are one of the last places you can still rent a DVD. They have free wifi, and librarians able to help with research projects. Many libraries, particularly the larger ones, have regular reading events for kids, ESL programs, homework assistance, lectures, concert series.
The County of Los Angeles Public Library has 85 branches throughout the region and serves over three million people each year. In her honor, we take you, this Monday, to the Central Library in downtown.
If you take the Metro, get off at the 7th Street/Metro Center station and use the Hope St. Exit. Once you’re out on the street, hang a left and follow Hope St. north to the back entrance of the library. If you use Google Maps, it will try to take you to the front entrance, which adds an unnecessary loop around the block.
Downtown’s Central Library is not a library with rickety wooden tables and the musty smell of old books. She is a stunning piece of architecture—both her interior and her exterior— and she is cupped by a serene landscape garden, perfect for an afternoon with the Bronte sisters, or Whitman or the Weasley’s….whatever your reading preferences.
The original library building was designed in the mid 1920s by New York architect, Bertram Goodhue, and is an early example of Art Deco. If you’re not sure you’ve found the library, just look up. At the top of the building is a brilliantly colored pyramid that catches sunlight and glints like the homing beacon of an Arabian palace.
Perhaps the most awe-inducing bit of the library is on her insides. The high-domed rotunda on the second floor of the Goodhue building has a chandelier that hangs dramatically from the center of the ceiling. It is an illuminated globe with the signs of the Zodiac, and it’is surrounded by floor to ceiling murals, depicting California history.
All of this is in the older portion of the library—the Goodhue Building—which also houses Children’s Literature, Teen ‘Scape and a gallery, displaying a rotating collection of material from the library’s special collection on Los Angeles History. You can see a Chinese food takeout menu from the 20s, for example, advertising a “refined atmosphere” and “popular prices.”
In 1986 an arsonist set fire to the Central Library and forced a seven year closure. The restored library opened in 1993 with the addition of the Tom Bradley Wing.
The center of the Bradley Wing looks almost like a modern art museum. Escalators transport you up and down its eight floors, which are housed inside a glass-roofed atrium. Each level leads to a different department: Art Music & Recreation, Business & Economics, History & Genealogy, International Languages, Literature & Fiction, Popular Library, Rare Books, Science & Technology, Social Science Philosophy & Religion.
Suspended from the ceiling are three enormous and whimsical chandeliers with birds, and flowers and musical notes sprouting out of it.
You’ll see all manner of people at the library: college students, the homeless, grandpa-aged men taking the architecture tour (offered daily). Sometimes you might see someone watching porn on a computer. It’s begrudged, but allowed. Something to do with the first amendment.
Each department has it’s own front desk with librarians that can help you. You can sit in chairs at a desk or at one of the large tables. Each desk and table has a lamp and an outlet.
Your library card is FREE, and it applies to all LAPL libraries. It also give you access to the library’s online resources. You can obtain a card from any branch.
The Central Library is not a great spot if you want to do group work. The only section where you’ll hear a lot of talking is in the lobby. If you keep your voices low, though, it’s fine to talk in the various Departments.