Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Blogging from the New Library

Perhaps this is the first blog posting from the new Portsmouth Public Library? I'd be honored if it was.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in is that everybody is smiling. There's a magical feel in the air here. It's like the morning after the Red Sox won the World Series. Everybody is walking around dazed and smiling, shaking their heads in disbelief, and saying things like, "I can't believe it finally happened" and "I'm so glad I got to see this before I died!" It's been a long time coming; this Herald editorial gives the you the basic idea.

I parked easily in the lot between the school and the library (wow, what a concept, free and abundant parking!) and I walked in to see... middle-schoolers swarming all over the place like happy little locusts after grasshopper school. I guess 3PM isn't the best time to come to the new library?!

I said hi to Reference Librarian/City Institution Michael Huxtable, got my map (you'll need it, trust me) and took my self-guided tour. It's bright, airy, open... a little sterile (think hospital, hotel, etc.) but very handsome. After meandering around the place, being in awe of the sheer size and available space, I settled in Fiction, just away from the main desk and around the corner from the cafe. From here I can hear the library staff people offering new patrons the choice of library cards in traditional "credit" style or "keychain" style. I believe people who were turned off by the lack of parking and space in the old library will be coming out of the woodwork to become patrons of this library. Indeed, in the time that I've been sitting here, there's been a steady stream of people signing up.

Perhaps the starkest contrast between the old and new libraries is the space on the shelves. When I was a work-study library page at the old building back in the early 90s, I remember stacks bursting at the seams and when I was reshelving books, I was laying books on top of books because they couldn't squeeze into place. Now, it's like going from an old VW Beetle to a Hummer stretch limo -- plenty of head and leg room!

And you know me... of course I brought in my laptop. I connected to the network right away but needed a password. I'm still not sure how I feel about this -- I think wi-fi networks should be open, for ease of both site hosts and users. Anyway, the front desk person gave me the info (UN - portslib, PW - portslib). We'll have to see if they rotate it. Signal is strong (4 out of 4) and fast (768 Kbps, i.e., DSL speed) -- and according to the log-in welcome page, the networking is still provided by our friends at Single Digits. The whole library is essentially a wi-fi zone, but it seems the best reception will be in the middle of the building (where I sat) by the court yard. (More glass, less steel.)

All in all, the new facility is a triumph. Personally, I've been waiting 20 years for this, and dare I say, it's been worth the wait? Finally, it's a world class library for a city that richly deserves one. And yes, it has that "new library smell." How sweet it is.

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