If you are passing through the center of my adopted hometown - Natick, MA - you will see the above building and probably assume it is a church of some sort. You would not be incorrect. It is the original building of our main library and in my life I worship at the cathedral of books.
The Morse Institute Library was born of a personal collection of books by Samuel Morse in 1808. Former Vice President and Natick resident, Henry Wilson, presided over the original formal library. But it was Mr. Morse's young granddaughter, Mary Ann Morse, who got the ball rolling on this beautiful building. When she passed away at the age of 37 in 1862, she left her entire estate to build and fill a library for her beloved community and her bequest was accepted by the town. I don't know why she died so young or how much her estate amounted to, but it wasn't enough to actually accomplish her mandated goal. So the town changed its mind and said, no thanks. The library's board of trustees took their job seriously and challenged the town in the state's supreme court who ruled in their favor and, once additional funds had been raised, the building was completed by the end of 1873. A few weeks later, there was a massive fire in the town's center but the new library was somehow spared.
Additions were built throughout the years and by the mid-1990's enough was enough. The town raised millions of dollars to make it a true centerpiece of the community with modern conveniences and needs while smartly preserving and renovating Miss Morse's original building. I have spent many days in and out of this building but I never really explored the nooks and crannies. I took my camera with me on my last visit and did just that.
This is one of the private study rooms that you can reserve. It appears to have been the alcove of the original building's entrance and feels very stoic. There are memorials on the side walls to those who fought in the first World War along with beautiful stained glass windows and elegant but comfortable wing chairs. It is intimate and feels a bit like hallowed ground. I wonder who else walked through this room in the path of history before me?
Outside, the new library melds into the original building's structure. Inside, open spaces surround the original building's exterior walls, wrapping around history. Above is a view from the second floor looking down at the lobby where people enter from the right and head straight under the flag to the circulation desk, new releases, fiction, large print, audios, paperbacks, movies and music. The Speed Read collection (for 1 week lending times of new and popular books) and librarian's suggested shelves are also housed there - along with a big fish tank in keeping with the vibrant but peaceful theme. The study rooms are in the original building portion of the first floor.
This is the entrance to the second floor of the original building as seen from the landing I took the lobby view photo from. I don't know what is in there since there was a class or meeting of some sort going on in this History Room. But in peeking through the door I can see that the windows are colorful and huge. I can't wait to look in there the next time it is unoccupied.
The second floor is where the public computers are as well as the research desk, archived materials, historical references, the Young Adult collection and homework lab as well as the entire non-fiction collection. All along the front wall of the second floor, overlooking the town's center and parallel to the original building section is the awesome reading area pictured above. I could, and many have, spent hours curled up reading there.
As in a museum, there are various artifacts tucked away throughout the library. I was particularly impressed with this American flag that was carried in the Civil War by a Natick soldier through the Battle of the Wilderness where Lee and Grant duked it out in Virginia.
The basement level houses the children's collection and although I didn't want to intrude there with my camera, I did sneak a shot of this cozy reading area brightened by street level skylights. Outside of the entrance is an awesome dollhouse display painstakingly decorated with love as well as a menagerie of crocheted critters created by one of the library's staff. The rest of the basement level has 2 large meeting areas that house everything from the library sales to town meetings.
While I was back up on the main level browsing through the stacks, I saw a trio of women standing there with their hands on their hips and their heads on a swivel with a big smile across their faces. "I wish we had a library like this. Can you imagine?!" It reminded me how fortunate I am to live in a community that cares so much about my religion of reading. And as wondrous as it is on the inside, the outside of my library is sometimes the perfect spot to worship with a new book under a shady tree.
Does your town have a library? Do you worship at its alter?