A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Beautiful and Dangerous

Wow...December is beautiful. Dangerous, but beautiful.

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The Treasure House of Books

Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of the Springfield Library Association, but not of the present library building. Back in 1857, the library was located in City Hall, and was funded by private subscription. Not until 1871--the same year that my own Emory House was constructed--was a separate structure built on the present location. The population of the city grew so rapidly in the ensuing decades that by 1912 a new, much larger building had replaced it.

This new building was designed by Edward Lippincott Tilton and funded in part by a $200,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie. Tilton designed over a hundred libraries, many of them Carnegie commissions. His design for the Springfield Central Library--one of the larger ones with which he is credited--was a turning point in his career.

Tilton was a pioneer in the Open Plan system, in which the most-used books are located on open shelves on the main and upper floors, and the rest in stacks on the lower levels. He embraced the Beaux-Arts ideals of homage to a variety of historical styles coupled with modern innovations such as steel-frame construction. The Springfield Library, and many to follow, was classically-inspired: of white marble and granite, symmetrical and harmonious, chock-full of friezes, Corinthian columns, niches, busts of Minerva, and of course the magnificent rotunda with its glass dome.

With William Boring, Tilton designed the Ellis Island Immigrant Station. In our area, Tilton also designed the Memorial Square Library in Springfield, the West Springfield Library, the Smith College Library, and, with Alfred Morton Githens, the Springfield Museum of Fine Arts and the Springfield Museum of Natural History. The latter two buildings, along with the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, and this library, form a lovely quadrangle which is one of the chief treasures of our city.

I've been frequenting this library for nearly fifty years, roughly half of its existence. The one constant in my motley, nomadic, sometimes-tumultuous life has been books. I don't think most people realize how much freedom public libraries provide to us with their unlimited access to information. For this we have to thank, among many others, Andrew Carnegie and Edward Lippincott Tilton.

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