On the other side of the library were a lot of social service buildings. Doctor offices, pharmacies, a homeless shelter, and my own personal dentists office were all in easy walking distance of the library.
The homeless shelter specifically drew my interest because, from my own personal experience
working there, I know that the homeless are encouraged to visit the library on a daily basis. Such an influx from this part of the community would undoubtedly mean that the library would have to make measures to accommodate them.
On the South-East side of the building is the river and the heart of the downtown area. Churches, and a lot of commercial buildings, as well as the Waterloo School of Architecture comprise this section of the downtown. Being located close to these areas would probably mean a much different type of demographic being attracted to the library. Specifically, with students having close access to the library, one would think that an increased emphasis on research materials and areas for private would influence library decision making.
Upon entering the library I immediately noticed the signage. There were signs advertising free ESL workshops (great for new immigrants or new library users) as well as various reading, poetry, and art clubs. This emphasis on art was carried through into the main lobby where expression through architecture and design was easily noticed. The atrium was lined with a very unique piece created by a local artist, while the black steel beams inside the library gave it a modern tone.
After passing the circulation desk I entered the general reading/meeting space. The overall tone of this space made me feel that the library was not just a space but also a public place. There were people of many different ages and backgrounds, some just reading the paper or looking out the windows, while many others were talking. Talking!, in a library! It seemed that public discourse was far from discouraged, as this space was specifically designed for that exact purpose.
In contrast with the stacks, the second floor (fiction and popular media) seemed to be much more valued and more used. Here, people were seen borrowing books or magazines off the shelves and sitting down for a leisurely read of their chosen materials. The tone of the second floor was much more quiet, and the older members of the community seemed drawn to this section of the library as an escape from the every-day bustle of the first floor.
(Note: After consulting with the librarian it was decided that I should not include any of the kids in my photographs...which might have been kind of creepy anyways.)
However, like the 'eye' that was previously described above, the art gallery has been met with some resistance by the community. Many people seem to feel that the gallery is a bit pretentious in its tone, and feel that it has marginalized and alienated certain members of the community.
I myself have occasionally felt a little intimidated by the gallery, unsure if I was even allowed inside since no one else was there. It is definitely not the most welcoming place, and if any area of the library could be improved it is probably this one.
In its mission statement the Cambridge library states that it hopes to “improve the quality of life of the community by assisting them in their pursuit of information, education, research, recreation and culture.” Most libraries seem to have the first three covered; it is the last two that libraries seem to struggle with. But, in my experience observing the Cambridge Public Library & Galleries I felt that it was refreshing to see recreation and culture so well developed within a library setting.