Monday, June 3, 2013

An Ode to the BPL

by Jodi Bosin

The front of the Boston Public Library

A palace for the people, Charles McKim called it. 

The Boston Public Library on Mason Street,
its location from 1854-1858. Image from
The architect's firm McKim, Mead, and White completed their masterpiece one hundred and eighteen years ago. The Boston Public Library, better known as the BPL, had been located first in a former schoolhouse on Mason Street (shown on the right) and then in a building on Boylston Street. Both of these locations were much too small to contain the first large free municipal library in the United States, even in its younger days. In 1854 when the library first opened the collection had about 16,000 volumes; it now holds almost nine million. Indeed, a palace seems the only structure suitable for an urban cave of wonders such as this.

Upon approaching the library, I navigate the streams of pedestrians passing through Copley Square and ascend the thin sheets of steps that surround it. The giant stone building stands majestically before me; skyscrapers rise up behind it but their shining surfaces seem to be made of something less eternal. I step in one of the gaping oval entryways and into a sudden quiet, sheltered from the bustling square beyond. A marble staircase leads upward, under the protective gaze of two sculpted lions and past murals by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Edwin Austin Abbey, and John Singer Sargent.

The front stairs

I then enter Bates Hall, my favorite public space in the city of Boston. The ceiling stretches 50 feet high, lined with fifteen large windows and magnificent barrel vault arches. The hall is bordered by bookshelves around its edges and features two long rows of wooden tables with the sort of green lamps remeniscent of a musty grandfather's study. The room exudes comfort and calm, and I have often found it the perfect refuge to study, read, or write surrounded by others doing the same.

Bates Hall

I am proud to count myself among the three million or so that visit the BPL each year. With a wide range of programs, manuscripts, maps, prints, and books, as well as 25 other branch libraries, the BPL is a veritable beating heart. "Boston Pubic Library is a community gathering place, a place for lifelong learning, a place to seek knowledge, solace, and renewal," wrote President Amy E. Ryan in a letter announcing the BPL's reopening following the Boston Marathon events. Charles McKim would be glad to hear it, and thousands of Boston residents would readily agree. We are glad to have it back.

No comments:

Post a Comment