Most people don’t want to think about work when they’re on vacation. After all, that’s kind of the point of going on vacation. After attending the 2017 Library and Marketing Communications Conference in Dallas on Nov. 16 and 17, I decided to take a short road trip to Austin, Texas to round out the week. I hadn’t been on vacation in years, so taking a three-day jaunt to a highly-praised and boisterous city, with no set-in-stone agenda, seemed like a good way to relax and unwind; especially after all of the usual to-the-minute schedule wrangling that comes with attending a conference.
Austin is a very friendly city. In fact, a lot of restaurants and cafes there have community seating, which is fairly uncommon in Indiana. Basically, if you don’t want to wait 15 to 20 minutes for a table, you can sit with strangers. On Saturday morning, I had breakfast at the Bouldin Creek Cafe and chose the community seating option. I had a nice hour-long breakfast conversation with complete strangers and once I mentioned that I worked in a library I heard, for the first of many times, “You have to see the new library downtown!” I already knew I wanted to visit Barton Springs, Zilker Park, various record stores, specific music venues, McKinney Falls State Park and as many restaurants as possible, so did I want to visit a library, a place where I spend five days a week, especially right after a two-day library-related conference? Of course I did. I penciled in some time Sunday morning and hoped for the best.
The Central Library of the Austin Public Library system opened less than three weeks earlier, on Oct. 28, 2017, and did not disappoint. The library is located in the Seaholm EcoDistrict on César Chávez St. downtown. In addition to the Central Library, the Austin Public Library system consists of 20 branches, a mobile library, two bookstores and a history center. Not unlike the Indianapolis Public Library’s (IndyPL) Central Branch here, “the Central Library serves as the backbone of the Austin Public Library system.” A recent article from UT News praised the new Central Library in Austin as an example of the library of the future and it’s easy to see why. According to UT News, “In some respects, it is the library of the future and will meet a multitude of needs including shared learning spaces, the technology petting zoo, the innovation lounge, the children’s creative commons and the reading porches. In a nutshell, libraries must rebrand themselves as technology-rich learning centers.”
The library itself is amazing. If libraries need to rebrand themselves as technology-rich learning centers, then the Central Library in Austin is doing a tremendous job. Obviously, I knew I was walking into a library, but it didn’t feel like a library. It felt like more than a library. The six-story building has an open design, not unlike IndyPL’s Central Branch, and, of course, there are shelves of books, but most libraries do not have digital concierges greeting you as you walk in. The library is replete with this kind of technology and includes several stations where patrons can check out, for two hours at a time, laptops and tablets, including Chromebooks, iPads and MacBook Airs. The Shared Learning Rooms have video conferencing ability, via Google Hangouts, and are even set up to connect Apple devices to TV screens via AirPlay. All of this is in addition to the aforementioned technology petting zoo, the innovation lounge and the children’s creative commons and it’s all free-of-charge, of course.
In addition to the technology on display, the library also does a fantastic job of representing the humanities. The art exhibit area, dubbed The Gallery, “features rotating art displays from local and national artists.” This area is part of what makes Austin’s Central Library feel like more than a library. At this library, patrons can check out books about fine art and also see an entire fine art exhibit. This allows patrons from all walks of life to enjoy a museum-like experience.
Also striking is the massive art piece created by international artist Christian Moeller. The piece, titled CAW, is “a 37-foot-tall kinetic sculpture resembling a gigantic cuckoo clock overtaken by blackbirds.” My first thought was that this piece was strictly influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, as it consists of blackbirds and a pendulum. While Poe’s “The Raven,” was an influence, the piece also drew inspiration from Greek god Apollo and Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Overall, it’s a representation of the blackbird’s presence and influence in art, literature and mythology. In this video, recently recorded at the Central Library, Moeller discusses his influences and how he created the piece.
Finally, my favorite part of the library: The rooftop garden. The sixth floor of the library hosts the Roof Garden, which offers stunning views of the city of Austin. The space is phenomenal and really gives one a sense of “hanging out,” which is very important, especially in light of the preconceived notions people might have about libraries. There is nothing musty about the garden area and no one will “shush” you. Of course, people were posing for pictures, enjoying the plants and just admiring the view, but patrons were also reading books, working on their computers, using the checked out tablets and having small meetings. This space really ties together everything the library has to offer and shows why the Central Library of the Austin Public Library is indeed a library of the future.
So, next time you think you might not want to mix work with vacation, I urge you to reconsider. At the very least, if you don’t work in a library, I highly recommend putting a library visit on your vacation agenda. A lot of libraries even offer tours. You can learn how to set up a tour of the Central Library in Austin here and you can also tour the Indiana State Library by following the instructions posted here. Now, which library to visit next?
This blog post was written by John Wekluk, communications director, Indiana State Library. For more information, email the communications director.