Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Revisiting the Roanoke Library

I like E.B. White's definition of what a library should be:

A library is many things. It’s a place to go, to get in out of the rain. It’s a place to go if you want to sit and think. But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books… A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your questions answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people — people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.” ~ E.B. White
I got my library card when my Huff Lane Elementary School class went on a field trip to the Roanoke Public Library. I was eleven. At least once a week during the following summer, I boarded the Williamson Road bus—sometimes alone and sometimes with my friend Martha who lived across the street—and went downtown to the children's room of the library.

The two paths on the right led to the library.

The children's room was downstairs and had an entrance off a side-street, but we could have gone through the grownup section and down the stairs if we'd wanted. I was delighted there were so many rows and rows of books all in one place. After checking out our books, we'd usually go into the adjoining Elmwood Park and walk among the magnificent old trees and go to the pond to see if we could spot any fish. There were some big ones in that pond. And there were squirrels that skittered close to us to see if we'd toss them any goodies. The park seemed like a place right out of books. It was magical.

In high school, my friends and I spent a lot of time at the library. In those long ago times, no one could imagine the Internet, so the library was the go-to place when we had research papers. Plus it was a good place to meet friends. After we'd gotten our books, we could head downtown to shop in one of the department stores, or we might get a hamburger and coke for lunch. We might even go to a movie. The library was the basis of our social life, and downtown had everything we wanted.

My first job—the summer after my freshman year of college—was in the children's room. I loved it. The children's room hadn't even changed much.

Consequently, when I moved back to Roanoke in the 70s, I kept using the library. It still hadn't changed much. Eventually the library was expanded, the children's room was moved to the first floor, and the pond was filled in, but the changes were gradual. I was last there two or three years ago. Then, last year, the library closed for extensive and expensive $3.2 million renovation. After hearing about the reopening, I was anxious to see how things had changed.

So, on Thursday, I drove to Roanoke to see for myself. Luckily two parking spaces were open on Jefferson Street, and I got the one closest to the entrance. I didn't see any handicapped parking spaces. Here's the view from my parking place. I don't walk very well, but I figured I could make it to the door.

I was puzzled by an ugly wavy metallic thing—like maybe the roof had blown off someone's shed and lodged against the building. It looked like it could be reused if it were straightened out a bit.

I would have liked to sit down for a bit midway through my walk to the door. This retaining wall used to be a good place to sit, but the wavy metal thingie that's now on the wall's top is not derriere-friendly. I hope no children (or adults either!) fall on it. They could get a nasty cut. 

On the other side of that wall used to be a street—later a dead-end street—where the handicapped parking places were.  Now the former street is a brick-paved "art walk" but I didn't see any art. As I got closer to the building, I could see some benches way down the sidewalk (look in front to the cars). Years ago, I remember more benches along this stretch of sidewalk.

To the left of the library is a nice plaza-type space. People used to sit along the wall here. It would be great to have a seating area there.  It would also make a great kids' play area. But this space is kind of fenced off now. I guess they don't want visitors here.

And there's more of the metal strip on top of the wall to discourage sitting. They really don't want folks to use this space. Why not?

Just inside the door is this lovely statue.  Behind her is a glassed-in place to sit and overlook the off-limits plaza. There's some fence wire (left) so no one can get in or out from the plaza. You have to enter through the library (right).

When you go through the library's main door, the first thing you see is what at used to be a reading area with some nice places to sit and read. Now glitzy pictures of the Roanoke skyline block off the "teens" area so you can't see what goes on in the library. It would be nice to have a map of the library here so visitors would know what is where. You can see a corner of an information desk to the right. Two people were behind it, but I couldn't figure exactly what they were doing.

This is the view to the left of the entry door. There is one place to sit, but that bench doesn't look comfortable. At least it doesn't have a jagged metal thing across it. Those black computer-looking things are where you self-check out books. I don't know how that works.  If you're very short or are in a wheelchair, I don't think you could easily use them.

If you're interested in "new books," you'll have to stand to make your selection. There's nowhere to sit and read a few pages. The "new books" sign and several other signs I noticed are vertical rather than horizontal. I don't know why that is, except it makes it easier for anyone standing in front of the sign to obscure it. None of the signs have capital letters, so I guess they aren't really names of anything.

On the other side of the bench is the door to the patio room. The fence that separates the patio from the plaza looks just like the fence around my horse's pasture. Is it supposed to fence folks in or out? I wonder why they didn't use fine-mesh screen to keep the bugs out. There are a couple of green plastic chairs, but most of the seating seems to be metal. Not comfortable. This would be a good place for  rocking chairs.

The picture below shows the entrance to the children's area. You can see there's plenty of open space for them to run wild move about unimpeded. There are three sort of doll house-y things against the left wall. I think they're supposed to be art because they don't appear to be functional. And there are three chairs with their backs to each other to the right. I guess it's handy for dysfunctional families who want to sit together but don't want to look at each other. Too bad there isn't a couch or two for families to sit together and read. Or even some big comfortable chairs. Or a rocking chair. At least something family-friendly.

I'm not sure what this little crawl-though area is, or what it has to do with a library.

In the children's area are some tables where kids can sit and do something that requires sitting. The sign says "explore,"but the only nearby things to explore are those panels with holes in them. It might be interesting and educational for kids to see if their hands and feet will fit through those holes. I can't figure out what else you could do with them.

At the far left in the picture above, you can see a twisty yellow thing that looks like a section of a giant intestine. It's a way for kids to slide from a mezzanine back to the kiddie section. It's also a great way for kids to lose their parents and take off on their own. I'm not sure how a parent gets down, but I think there's a staircase. Here's a close-up:

The kiddies pop out here:

I asked a librarian how they keep the intestine tube clean, and she told me they'd ordered a special thing that will push up through the tube to clean its walls. I also asked about the safety of a kid coming down the intestine tube while the parent is still upstairs. What if, I pointed out, a kidnapper is waiting? She told me that adults aren't allowed in the children's area without a child. In fact, she would have asked me to leave if I hadn't asked some questions first. So, for those readers of this blog who write kid-lit and like to read what's current in the field: don't go to this section of the library unless you can find a child to drag along with you.

I noticed some computers in the children's area. Three parents were using them while their children slept on their laps or in a stroller. I did see some other computers that two boys were using. I didn't see any parents near those boys, though.

In the area where the books are, there's an open square (you can't see it in the picture below, but it's behind the second row of blue signage). In it, two little girls were pushing plastic grocery carts filled with plastic vegetables. If you look closely on the green carpet by the mauve panel, you can see a plastic tomato just waiting to be stepped on. I didn't see anyone reading—you know, with books. But a couple of parents were watching the girls.

I'm puzzled by the children's area decor—not just the lack of color coordination and those strangely creepy tree pictures on the panels, but by the absence of anything to encourage reading. No illustrations from kids' books, no fairy tale pictures, no pictures of kids reading, nothing to stimulate kids' imaginations. 

Not far from the kids' section is a big deck that looks out onto what used to be the park. Alas, there's not much park left in the park. The big trees I loved when I was a kid no longer exist. In the picture below, you can see the brick art walk (but I still don't see any art), lots of pavement, and what might eventually become a grassy spot.  Note the smooth rail above the glass. It would probably be easy to climb on this—there's no jagged metal to deter a climber.

On the right, there are a few recently planted trees, but they're a long way from being awe-inspiring. And there's an amphitheater. Just past the amphitheater—and across Williamson Road—is a city parking lot. It's still a long way from the library, though, and I'm not sure how you negotiate all those cement/grass rows of seats. Maybe you have to go down Williamson Road to where the art walk begins and use that. I'm not in good enough shape to walk that far.

Back inside, here are some books in the YA section . . . 

. . . and some shelves of "movies."

None of the shelves seems to be cluttered. Perhaps a lot of things have been checked out.

While the first floor is totally different from how it used to be, one thing that hasn't changed is the Virginia Room on the second floor. Why it blissfully escaped renovation is beyond me. Perhaps it just got lucky. When I was there, only two other patrons were using it—one was sitting at a table.

The other patron was using a computer that's obscured by the palm tree in the picture below.

Past the tables is a doorway that leads into a room filled with books—the way a library should look.

On the way in, I recognized a book by Marian McConnell. I bought that book from her at Mountain Spirits a couple of weeks ago.

Books in that room fill the shelves!

Besides books, the Virginia Room also has some historical visuals, such as this old map of Roanoke. It would be interesting to explore this. Too bad the kids don't have access to things like this in their area.

The Virginia Room, by the way, has digitized a lot of its historic photos. They're online here and they're worth a look. In the picture below, a small room just off the Virginia Room contains some computers. 

An even smaller room off the Virginia Room is a conference room.

My energy was waning after I'd explored for about 20 minutes. I really wanted to sit in a comfortable arm chair, but I never saw one (I need arms on a chair to help me get up). Thus, I didn't get to all the library's sections. I couldn't find the adult section, so I can't comment on what's there. I didn't see a computer lab either, but surely there must be one.

Before I left, I made a restroom stop. There were no paper towels in the small bathroom, but some kind of gizmo you put your hands into to dry. I dislike electric blowers because they waste energy and blow germs all over the place. (FYI: Since toilets do not have lids, germs are dispersed into the air during the flushing process.) Consequently, I shook my hands dry. 

The restroom didn't have a door (thankfully both stalls did), so anyone who is, er, taking care of business can listen to what's going on at the info desk. And I suppose anyone in the hall can hear what's happening in the bathroom. In the picture below, you can see the edge of the sink at the left and the "info" desk through the opening.

Did you notice in all the pictures I took in the library that there were very few patrons? I was a bit surprised myself by the lack of people at 11 AM. But then, where would they park?

My opinion (yours may differ): While I like the Virginia Room, I was really disappointed in what I'd seen of the library's renovations. I'd hoped it would be more like the Roanoke County Library's new headquarters. Sadly, it wasn't. Besides the disappointing decor and the wasted space, I found it non-user friendly for those of us who are elderly or handicapped. I think the old library was far superior to the new—at least the old one came much closer to E.B. White's definition of what a library should be. Since parking is a major problem, I doubt I'll be making a return visit.

If you want to see more interior shots, some pictures from the opening day of the renovated library are here.

And if you love libraries, take a look at this site:


Blogger Kimberly said...

Supposedly, The metal spiky things on the outside wall is to prevent the homeless from loitering outside the front door. Evidently, there were a lot of complaints about people being scared to come in the front door because of them.

The rule about no adults in the children's room, unless accompanying a child is just wrong! What if I wanted to go pick up some children's books to read to my grandchildren or the neighbor's children? What if I work at a preschool and want to get books for the kids. Heck, I even like reading children's books and for them to tell me, a Roanoke City taxpayer that I am not allowed? Right.

I have to agree about the weird color schemes and the giant yellow intestine. You mentioned the fruit and shopping cart in the children's area. The Library of Virgina now provides all kinds of toys, supposedly educational, for the children's rooms in libraries. They rotate the toys between the libraries ever few months. I can't even begin to count the number of times that I have either stepped or tripped on a toy, not to mention that I have turned my ankle a couple of times.

They say that libraries are more like community centers than libraries these days. I really don't care for that concept. I prefer books and some peace and quiet when I am a patron in a library.

9:26 PM  
Blogger CountryDew said...

I have never been a fan of the downtown library, mostly because of its location. Parking was always a problem. I agree with Kimberly above that the spikes are probably to deter the homeless, who used to spend their days in the library and in that area. What a shame to spend so much money to achieve so little. I know some firefighters who have gone without raises for years who could have benefited more...

8:49 AM  
Blogger Danny Adams said...

Wow, even the trees I remember from not altogether too many years ago are gone, too.

But thanks for posting this, and in such detail. And for the link to the digitized historic photos, which I hadn't known about!

6:36 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

The link to the photo collections has changed. Now it's

1:35 PM  

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