I am more than 10% of the way there! That doesn’t sound like a lot, right? Well, in the past month I have had so many opportunities to experience neighborhoods to which I have never been. It has also been really fulfilling to see how the libraries are bring used. Each location seems to have its own feel, but, for the most part, they all feel “like libraries.” They have books, computers, open spaces, art, colors, light, and so on. So, I was a little taken aback on January 24th when I tried to find my way into the North Austin Branch.
The North Austin Branch sits right on North Avenue. It has a fairly typical red and tan brick-face with a green roof. I parked in the parking lot, but couldn’t for the life of me, find which door is the entrance. The outer door was very uninviting, a solid-metal door that looked as if everything was on lockdown. The windows were either covered in a metal mesh or constructed from the think glass blocks. When I entered, the staff was very nice and welcomed me, but the building lacked the luster many other branches have.
Once inside, however, the plainness had its own sense of charm, though the antiquated carpeting and smell of “old church” (you all know what I mean) seemed like a blast from the past. It was spacious and had plenty of room for people to work. There seemed to be two wings, so I stayed on the east side while I did my reading for my EMT class. I was facing the front door. Computers were across the aisle to my right and behind me was a set of book stacks and tables that seemed in disarray. It almost seemed as if they were shoved back there for storage. The magazine rack seemed pretty low on magazines. Book stacks were partially full. The restrooms were a little off to the right of where I was, but you had to be buzzed in to use them. A few people were scattered on computers. A white woman came in with a bag full of books and sat at the tables in the back. A few minutes later a middle school student came in and sat back there as well. I assumed she was a teacher conducting a tutoring session because 30-40 minutes later the boy left and then so did the woman. Neither acknowledged anyone else in the library as they came and went.
I spend this time painting this picture because while I was sitting there, I was doing a thought experiment. In many other libraries I thought “Wow! This is beautiful! Look at the art! Look at the colors! Look at the books and knick-knacks!” Here, however, there was beauty too, but I just couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. The space was just so plain. Confucius said “Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.” I am a big fan of Eastern philosophy, and apparently so was Andy Warhol since many people attribute the quote to him. So I challenged myself to find the beauty.
The beauty was in the job boards hanging above my head. The beauty was in the community event posters on the wall. The beauty was in the laugh of the lady at the front desk as she greeted and chatted with everyone who came in. The beauty was in the man listening to the Chicago police scanner. The beauty was in the lady at the resource desk helping a young man access a job website. The beauty was in the man asking to print a few papers. The beauty was in the smiles and head-nods. The beauty was all around.