Wednesday, September 1, 2010

ON HOME ~ The Church of Books...

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?


JCB said...

What a BEAUTIFUL library!
When I moved to this small town the very first thing I did was check out the local library. The building is not anywhere as impressive and the selection is limited, but they provide an AMAZING service of linking to all other small community libraries in the province and sharing books. It is rare that they can't get a book in that I request and I love them for it.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Your library is lovely!! We are fortunate to have a beautiful, well-stocked one as well.....Worshiping there is a good thing.

caite said...

what a lovely building...and it's a lovely building filled with books! how could it be better?
I'll be in one of those comfy chairs...

Unknown said...

Libraries have some magnificent architecture, don't they? Especially ones built in the late 18/early 1900s. I love that they kept the theme of the architecture when building on additions (read the unfortunate mess that is the Providence main branch on my blog). The stained glass is amazing.

It's so great that they've gone to such care in the modernization. It's beautiful and functional, and performs such a vital service.

Kathleen said...

What a gorgeous place and tribute to a community that obviously values its literacy. The town I grew up in had a small little library that is now the used bookstore that raises books for the new, big and modern library that they built some years ago. I think it's nice that Natick decided to take the original building and make that work.

LJ said...

My does have a library - several in fact. But non as majestic as yours. Yours is the kind of old and new library that I like to sit in just to breath in the history and atmosphere. Very Cool!

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

This building reminds me of some of the older Carnegie libraries one used to find in so many towns. What an exciting place to visit.


Tami said...

Now I have library envy. One of the downsides to living in a "newer" section of the country is the lack of historical buildings like these. Our town has a fabulous library - and not just because I work there - but it's housed in a too-small, rather boring brick building built in 1979. You're a very lucky reader.

Anonymous said...

You are very lucky to have such an awesome library! Ours is new, but small. I want to come hang out in yours instead! said...

That is a stunning edifice! Can't blame ya one bit for worshiping at that fine altar.

Our library is small and much much newer than yours. It works, but it doesn't inspire.

cardiogirl said...

Yes and every chance I get.

(Does your town have a library? Do you worship at its altar?) I absolutely love the library and have since I was a child. I spent many a summer reading in the adult reading room. Yeah, 10 years old, camped out on the couch until it closed.

My kids love the library, too. That's a legacy I'm trying to create and so far I've been pretty successful.

Susan said...

That is a very lovely and imposing library! What a gift Mary Ann gave to the town; and even though her endowment wasn't enough to build it completely, it was the impetus that moved the townspeople to act.

The first thing I've always done when we move to a new town is find the library and I've encountered everything from historical buildings like yours, to brand-spanking-new ones, to itsy-bitsy ones housed in someone's former home.

The local library where I grew up was my first knowledge that there was a big world out there to discover and I took every advantage of it.

We have a nice library here in Marysville that is a member of a small consortium of regional libraries. If they don't have what you're looking for, they'll get it for you in a matter of days.

I love libraries and I love books. It's why I'll never own a Kindle.

Margot said...

Wow!! What a beautiful and impressive library. I don't think I'd read much in that building. I would sit with my mouth open and gaze at everything around me or, like you, take pictures of it all.