Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Holyoke Public Library - A Reunion

The Holyoke Public Library - I can't say how many times I passed through that door as a student at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School and Holyoke Catholic High School. That would be 5th Grade to 12th Grade; a solid 8 years of good memories. This building had such a major impression on me as a youth. Honestly, I can trace much of my appreciation for old buildings to this one. My appreciation for old houses has a separate origin - old buildings, right here. The building has seen its years, but I was happy to see a dedicated core community working to preserve this masterpiece of old craftsmanship that is often at the heart of our major cities. These buildings may be surrounded by blight or what some may deem undesired, however when you walk in them you are transferred back in time. They are nice substitute for a time machine if you are looking for one.

[That clock was my watch!] The Holyoke Public Library, like many other older libraries in the region, was not originally built where the building currently resides. The original location for this library was the old Appleton Street School. The Holyoke Public Library Corporation was established in 1870 a few years before the incorporation of Holyoke as a city in 1873. (I'll have to go fix the wiki page! 1850? LOL!) It outgrew there and was moved to the upper level of the Holyoke City Hall where it remained for about 25 years. In 1897 with the help of evil corporations and greedy industrialists the library was first moved to a piece of land donated by the Holyoke WaterPower Company when the library outgrew its confines again. Finally in 1902 in full Greek Neo-Classical glory the new building was opened! Where it has remained to this day. It has seen its ups and downs financially like all other non-profit orgs, but Providence has deemed fit to see it stand through the years.

At the dedication ceremony of the library in 1902 it was referred to as "The People's College" by then library president William Whiting. (That name sound familiar my fellow Holyoke Catholic alums?)

The first thing one notices when entering this building is the circulation desk (if walking through the main door). Soon after though you are looking up at the beautiful murals of Sante Graziani. They adorn the upper walls of the centrally located circulation room. They depict an allegorical history of the City of Holyoke. They, in addition to visiting an ornate neo-classical building, are a reason to look in and enjoy if you like art. A side note - if you've been to the South Hadley Post Office, you've seen Graziani's art. These murals adorn the four walls of the room.

Now it had been a very long time since I've been in this building. As I drove up and parked on Maple St. I was wondering what had changed in my absence. As I looked around Library Park I felt a little trepidation. It did not look the same as I remembered it. Unfortunately though, that is the story of Holyoke. I am quite used to that feeling. My old Church burned down and its school went with it (OLPH). My old high school no longer resided on the same grounds that it once did (HCHS). When you drive through that section of town it is hard not to compared it to memories of a better day. It has changed and not for the better. I grew up there, I know. Fortunately, I was not disappointed. I was very pleased.

Well the first change I noticed off the bat was that the Reading Room moved over to the other side and the Children's Section moved upstairs. I was saddened by that. I was looking forward to take a walk downstairs to the chamber where we boys raced to get to the best 'Which-Way?' books when our class visited the library. The spot where I usually sat and worked on reports - where I and a fellow 7th Grade Student worked diligently everyday after school on our Science Fair winning report on Eartquakes - was now a Cat in the Hat display. It's true! I have a picture. However, I did have to concede that the room was nice and bright. Perhaps sending all us little noisy brats down into the dark, dank basement was probably not a humane way to attain serenity. Oh well, at least I get to include complaining about that amongst the ordeals of my youth!

A few other changes included media located in the circulation room and the microfilm / reference room being changed to a computer room. That made the central area feel a little 'busier' than I remember, but all in all it wasn't distracting. The mood and aura of the library was clearly what I remembered. It feels much the same as if I had walked in 25 years ago.

As I stated earlier the inside of the building is quite beautiful and if it received more funding over the years it could easily rival Mt. Holyoke in its grand presentation. Still however, for a cousin who has seen its share of hardship you can still feel the tremendous spirit of its birth. The library has two levels accessible to the public. The main body of the library is on the bottom level. The upper level houses the community room, a nice display of library history over the years, older books and staff offices. The Holyoke History room used to be up there, but has been temporarily located at Holyoke Community College. The building is currently in a state of repair. The move of the History Room was one of the necessities. It was refreshing to learn that the city was moving ahead with its plans to restore the structure. At 108-years of age... yeah it could use a little work. I look forward to seeing the plans reach their fruition.

Overall, this was a most enjoyable trip. I was looking forward to it as soon as I designated it as my next library. I was not sure what to expect. I don't know if I want to say that I had forgotten what the inside looked like. If I sat and thought about it I would have remembered everything eventually. I knew the basic layout and design. Perhaps it was a little smaller than I remember, I was a teenager when I was going here. One thing I clearly forgot, but to which was immediately reminded was the translucent floor in the adult stacks section. I loved that floor! The beauty of the interior was a factor that I had underestimated. It was a very happy field trip and reunion.

Here are a few more photos that I took that I think you would like. Enjoy!

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