Saturday, July 9, 2011

Library Review: Des Moines Central

I have made it to Minneapolis, and on the way I stopped in Des Moines. What does Des Moines have? It has some interesting pizza shops and some good coffee shops and a smelly river. It also has a great central library, which came together just before I left the city in 2006. While I was in town a couple weeks ago I made sure to stop by. Sarah accompanied me on this review, as did DM resident Kevin Henderson, who seemed unsure about this whole endeavor:


The new Central Library was built to replace a cramped and stained and ancient building that made me feel moldy whenever I walked in. The new building is angular, and the bright copper of a new penny, and built of glass that started to fail within the building's first year. It shines as you approach downtown from the west, and as you walk to the main entrance the walls sort of come up on you, so that you might wonder if they're closing in to squash the very life from your body.

Inside, books are stacked in wide shelves, generously spaced. Leather or faux-leather chairs are arranged around the perimeter so you can sit and read or soak in wifi or just stare blankly through the windows at the street outside. This is the first place I encountered librarians wearily going around, asking sleeping people to keep their eyes open.

The strangest visual elements in the library exist in the restroom. (I wanted to take photos but felt extra creepy operating my phone's camera while someone occupied one of the stalls.) The fixtures are modern, metal, but there are no mirrors. There are also no doors, so that as you round the corner from the sink you might crash into some kid slurping at the hallway water fountain.


This library does not feel very lonely. Everything seems built as if to minimize separation: the shelves are short, and the chairs are widely spaced, and you can see people nearby in every direction. Even if you're alone you can see people outside, through the windowed walls. I visited often while I was unemployed and always left feeling thrilled about life, even when I stopped to consider that I was spending the third or fourth morning in a week lounging around a library.


If you visit this library you can park for free, and you can park underground. You can park beneath the earth. That's probably not very exciting unless you ever tried to park at the old central library. Here you go down and get a ticket and validate it upstairs and when you leave, hopefully the machine that blocks the exit will read it correctly. The first time I tried this the machine flashed a digital red 20.00 at me.

To hell with that machine.


This library is a little weird. There are usually cops in the foyer, often standing cross-armed next to bicycles that appear to be too small for them. The librarians, too, look a little stranger than Orlando librarians. (Sorry, Des Moines librarians.) The science fiction section nearly bleeds into the children's section, so that it's difficult to browse SF titles without alarming or at least catching the attention of nearby parents, especially if you pick up a title with a near-naked alien person or an otherwise wild cover. Who made the decision to juxtapose racy SF with go-getting child detectives?

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