Posted on April 14, 2021 at 6:00 am
As communities continue to reopen across the Inland Northwest, travel has dominated my mind. I’ve waited over a year to see family and friends, and I look forward to packing my bags for a visit. I also look forward to sightseeing again.
With National Library Week taking place just last week, it seems appropriate to anticipate the reemergence of leisure travel by exploring fabulous book destinations for bibliophiles.
Once I started researching, it quickly became clear that there are far more extraordinary libraries and book-related museums than I could list in just one post! As a result, I will share international destinations in a future post.
The following list provides a tiny sample of what our region and country have to offer, and due to construction/renovation projects as well as pandemic restrictions, not all locations allow in-person visits as of April 2021.
Before you plan a trip, be sure to check that your chosen destinations will be open to visitors. If you’re not ready to travel yet, become an armchair explorer and enjoy the virtual options and pictorial books listed below.
Seattle Central Library regularly appears on lists of the most beautiful and/or most unusual libraries in the U.S.
In its first year open, the 2004 building attracted more than double the average number of daily visitors than the old building served. Perhaps the most famous part of the innovative architecture is the Book Spiral that allows access to the entire range of Dewey Decimal classified books in a continuous “ribbon.” Walk the stacks to enjoy stunning views full of natural daylight, sip a beverage in the coffee shop, and browse the gift shop.
If you’re in Seattle and modern architecture just isn’t your thing, head instead to the 1920s neo-Gothic reading hall at the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library. It feels more like being at Hogwarts than in a bustling contemporary city.
Multnomah County Central Library in downtown Portland, Oregon, was built in 1913 and is said to be the oldest public library on the West Coast. If you’re a researcher, you can apply for access to the John Wilson Special Collection, which includes rare and historic books in children’s literature, Native American literature, natural history, Northwest history, book arts, Charles Dickens, D. H. Lawrence, and more.
Crumpacker Family Library, at the Portland Art Museum, offers over 35,000 art-related volumes, including exhibition catalogs, Northwest artists files, and several archives. The reading room, complete with a beautifully coffered wooden ceiling, is open to students, researchers, docents, staff, and the public.
Vancouver Central Library is out of reach for U.S. citizens during the pandemic, but once the Canadian border has reopened, it will be one of the quickest ways to fulfill an international bucket-list goal! This coliseum-shaped structure in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, offers not only the amenities of a big city library but also a rooftop garden with a fabulous view.
Spokane Public Library’s Northwest Room provides a treasure of Inland Northwest materials and memorabilia as well as the Fuller Collection of rare materials relating to the history of writing and printing. Currently closed due to construction of the new downtown branch, this Spokane gem is expected to reopen in 2022. Until then, you can browse the digital collection including local high school yearbooks, biographical files, and historic photos of the Inland Northwest.
The Library of Congress (LOC) is not only one of the largest libraries in the country but also one of the largest in the world.
Comprised of three buildings in Washington, D.C., plus a fourth building in Culpeper, Virginia, the LOC offers stunning architecture plus dozens of programs and services. A large variety of digital content is accessible at the click of a mouse, including virtual events, virtual workshops, digital collections, and virtual music concerts.
Peterborough Town Library in Peterborough, New Hampshire, is the oldest tax-supported public library in the world. Established in 1833, it still functions as a public library for its local community. The current building was built in 1890 and has been expanded twice.
The architecturally innovative McAllen Main Library in McAllen, Texas, is housed in a repurposed 125,000 square-foot former Walmart store. The award-winning architecture encompasses a space the size of nearly two-and-a-half football fields, making it the largest single-story library in the U.S. Similar to the upsurge at Seattle Central Library, visitor numbers to the McAllen Main Library skyrocketed once the new building opened.
Chicago’s American Writer’s Museum opened in May 2017 with a mission to engage the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, identity, culture, and daily lives. While the physical museum is closed as of April 2021, their website offers several virtual options including blogs, podcasts, videos, and virtual exhibits.
The Kansas City Central Library features several delightful quirks. Housed in a former bank building, you can descend from a grand, columned lobby to the Vault Theater where an old bank vault now serves as a program space run in partnership with local film organizations. Head to the second floor and walk between the pages of a giant book into the children’s area. Or head outside to stroll past giant book spines that adorn the adjacent carpark.
If you plan a trip to Kansas City in 2022, don’t miss the upcoming Rabbit Hole Explore-a-Storium. This immersive, multi-sensory children’s literature museum is currently under construction. The brainchild of local independent bookstore owners, the project has been in the works since 2015 and looks to be very exciting destination for readers of all ages.
Don’t want to wait until 2022? The Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, is open now. This unique institution collects, preserves, presents, and celebrates picture books and picture book illustrations from around the world. It also offers story times, film viewings, and an art studio where visitors can create their own art during regular museum hours.
Children’s picture books and graphic novels make the connection between books and the visual arts clear. The Minnesota Center for Book Arts is dedicated to the celebration of all types of bookmaking as a dynamic and contemporary art form. Even when the building is closed to the public, virtual workshops and virtual exhibitions provide options for aspiring book artists and book-arts lovers alike.
Art lovers also won’t want to miss the New York Public Library’s Main Branch (officially called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building). The entrance is famously flanked by a pair of marble lions, named Patience and Fortitude. Inside the impressive beaux-arts building lies a state-of-the-art research facility, grand-chandeliered reading room, exhibition space, circulating children’s collection, and historic wall and ceiling murals. Currently closed for renovations through 2021, this five-minute video provides a brief history lesson and glimpses of the interior to whet your appetite.
One of downtown Los Angeles’s most treasured architectural landmarks is the Richard J. Riordan Central Library. The original 1926 Goodhue Building provides a splendid example of art deco art and architecture. The newer Tom Bradley addition complements the original structure, and the Maguire Gardens provide a beautiful outdoor space to enjoy lovely Southern California weather. If you can’t visit in person, take a virtual 360-degree tour.
In addition to exploring the digital and virtual options mentioned above, you can check out print books featuring gorgeous photography and interesting facts about some of the world’s most beautiful, interesting, and unusual libraries.
If you need help placing a hold on any of the books in our catalog, you can call the library during open hours at 509.893.8400.
As you prepare for the reemergence of leisure travel, let the library help, regardless of your destination.
North American travel guides can be found on the 917s shelves in the nonfiction section at any of our libraries. Additional travel guides can be found in the 914s (Europe), 915s (Asia), 916s (Africa), 918s (South America), and 919s (Australia, Islands, and Antarctica) on our shelves.
If you’d like to travel outside the English-speaking world, the Pronunciator language-learning online resource is available in our Digital Library to help you prepare, including short daily lessons, lessons for children, and an 8-week travel prep course.
If you’re traveling with children, get them excited about your destination by exploring CultureGrams and children’s books, found using the call numbers listed above or by browsing OverDrive and hoopla.
For specific advice on traveling post-pandemic, I encourage you to listen to the podcast of Spokane Public Radio’s recent conversation with Rick Steves, an American travel writer.
I wish you the joy of discovery on your journey, whether you travel to a new destination or from your armchair.