A Library to Take Your Breath Away

You thought that this blog perhaps should have been named “bikey” instead of “bookish,” right? Well let me tell you about my trip to the Vancouver Public Library today. It still makes me a little misty-eyed thinking about it.

Today I decided to try biking the seawall up to Stanley Park, and possibly a little additional exploration as well. I asked my hosts about if there was a nearby library branch I could check out, and they suggested I just head to the main branch–”it looks like a giant coliseum.” After navigating the sunny day congestion along the seawall and trying to make my way toward the library, I was stopped at a light, casually looking around, and I gasped in realization. It was right in front of me, and it really does look like a giant coliseum!

Coliseum-er, I Mean Vancouver Public Library
Giant Coliseum-er, I Mean Vancouver Public Library

After locking up my bike I discovered a recessed fountain, and then a crevice-like path to follow to access the interior. Next, the atrium:

VPL Atrium
VPL Atrium

At this point you’re not inside the library, but the building offers a warm area with coffee shops and cafe seating, which both protects visitors from Pacific Northwest rain as well as taking full advantage when the sun makes a cameo appearance.

Once inside the library, I instantly found the information desk, thanks to some really clear signage (signage is really hard to do well!). The man I spoke with was very friendly and gave me just the right amount of introductory information, and didn’t seem too put out as I expressed my awe of the amazing building. A short conversation later, I had taken a couple of brochures, and was on my way up to the special collections room on the seventh floor.

Two display cases flanked the entrance of the special collections room: one displaying many antique-to-modern copies of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, the other with many antique-to-vintage copies of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. 

Alice Speaks with the Cheshire Cat
Alice Speaks with the Cheshire Cat

In addition to the library’s collection of antique children’s books, they boast a photographic archive of first nations and Vancouver history. I took away several pamphlets to use as reference in my future photograph research.

As I explored the room, I eventually came to the window that overlooked that gigantic atrium. While looking over and seeing so many using the reading desks on floors below gave a sense of humanity to what is often seen as a cold and anti-social place, having an entire wall made of glass meant it was rather dizzying to look all the way to the ground.


Doesn’t it figure that the Canadians would build the best and coolest public library building ever? Once again, they totally win out in terms of funding for important community centers, not to mention arts and humanities. But there’s hope! My hosts mentioned that Salt Lake City copied this building for their own library a couple of years ago. Let’s hope other US cities don’t just continue to copy this building, but will soon start uniting form and function for the good of the people. This building proves that it can be done.



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5 responses to “A Library to Take Your Breath Away

  1. Wowzas. That is one stunning library. I would love to wander through there.

  2. Ted Buehler

    Love at first site for me and VPL. It was almost brand new when I first became a patron, I’ve had many happy returns.

    A few times, maybe every time I’ve been there I haven’t been able to find a desk to sit at. That’s what happens when you build a beautiful library that sucks people in off the street and makes them feel like reading books, or makes a great plaec to study.

    It has some design and other issues, though. They dropped a ton of $ on the building, then a few years later either cut hours back at all the branch libraries or closed a couple because of budget cuts. It’s not all sunshine and roses.

    Oh Canada…

  3. vj

    OMG, I must go there. I had no idea. No idea what so ever….

    Ted’s mention of $$ problems are almost universal in public libraries in North America. There are only a couple that have significant enough endowments or other non-governmental funding to be able to have a beautiful, functional building, and sufficient cash for the other needs: books, media, staffing.

  4. AND Salt Lake City public library has an incredible rare-book and zine collection. They were one of the first public libraries EVER to have a zine collection.

  5. Just revisiting this post to send the URL to a friend, and I have to mention that I’ve been watching the new Battlestar Galactica…when I saw the episode with this building behind the actors, I hooted and hollered and generally threw a fit for about a minute and a half. The person who was watching with me distinctly remembers me saying “No, wait–go back, this is important! It’s a LIBRARY!!!!”

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