Another grand thing in the old town 


Central Library officially opened Sunday with the Circle City Sidewalk Stompers Clown Band on the street and a trumpet fanfare in the glittering Atrium. Individuals in the crowd gathering on the newly refurbished south entrance steps had personal agendas.

“I want to be the first to check out a book,” a man confessed.

“I’ve been coming to Central Library since I was a child,” a woman announced. “I wouldn’t miss this.”

“I haven’t been in the library since I was 14,” a man commented. “I want to see what the fuss is all about.”

“I came to hear what Mari Evans has to say,” a woman stated.

Indeed, what Indianapolis’ unofficial-official poet laureate had to say during the brief public ceremony might become as much a cornerstone of its function/use as the ceremonial stone is traditionally for the form/structure.

Evans prefaced the reading of her poem with personal comments about the importance of Central Library in her early life in Indianapolis, when authors became her heroes and the building itself became her intellectual home. Initially composed in 2002 when the expansion project was underway, “Paean for a New Library” brilliantly traces humankind’s intellectual quest and ultimate desire for “a shelter / where children can come / to bathe in Light / surrounded by wisdom, their / minds challenged / their spirits renewed … We reverence libraries for they hold the past / contain the blueprints for our future / the impetus toward present possibility.”

And indeed the primary space adjacent to the Atrium, which connects the 1917 Cret building with the new structure, is the Learning Curve, a 21st century model of being surrounded by information and ways to process and apply it beneficially. This family- and children-centered space has to be experienced first-hand. Words can’t adequately capture the feeling of shelves that curve, study spaces and seating that embrace, a storytelling theater that surrounds, media labs set up for supra-creativity … and on and on.

The building’s architecture is itself worthy of a visit, but the real reason to wander and explore and gape is the way in which books and non-book materials are made available.

Stairs (and elevators) bring us to fiction/mystery/westerns/speculative fiction titles in the refurbished Cret building, where lighting is beefed up and seating is inviting. The feeling of too many shelves, too much furniture is gone. It’s open, airy and amazing to see through the north wall windows that were boarded up when the now-demolished north addition was tacked on. The ceiling in the newly named Simon Reading Room, restored to its original 1917 color, commands attention. Looking up we observe benchmark moments of the written language: the Rosetta Stone, a papyrus roll, the Gutenberg press, a modern printing press.

Past the Atrium, with its check-out stations, open seating and a café, escalators and elevators move us up and down to access the non-fiction collections on the third through sixth floor Towers of the North Building. Stepping off either conveyance, we’re met by staff at an information desk.

Public computers abound, including those that can be checked out to carry around the building and return upon leaving.

The far end of the third floor houses a researcher’s dream come true: The system’s extensive collection of microfilm and microfiche has been gathered into one area instead of being spread throughout the branch libraries. Equally accessible in one place is the Foundation Collection, a wonderful asset for people seeking grants for nonprofit organizations. Included are online resources, reference sources and circulating materials. A class, “Introduction to Grant Seeking for Nonprofits,” is offered monthly.

The fourth floor language lab is a much-need addition. Open access to Central’s extensive and unique music collections on the fifth floor surpasses anything hoped for by patrons frequenting the old space with its jammed-against-each-other shelving. One actually can find the scores and sheet music without peril to one’s safety.

The sixth floor affords magnificent views of the city any hour of the day or evening and houses the Nina Mason Pulliam Indianapolis Special Collections Room. Here are books by Indianapolis authors past and present; an extensive children’s literature collection; high school yearbooks; cookbooks and menus; and a fine printing collection that opens us to beauty in typography.

Study rooms and open seating spaces throughout are so tastefully furnished one simply wants to stay and read a bit more. When weather improves, the same might be said about the inviting garden spaces.

Take time to look up at the North entrance. The 1892 classic bronze statue personifying the major areas of human endeavor is a soaring tribute to Mari Evans’ vision of “people … who are their own Enlightenment who / secure inclusion / Who are their own beneficent result!”

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A bit of Hoosier history

The original main structure for the Central Library, known as the Cret Building, located on St. Clair Street and extending from Meridian to Pennsylvania streets, was built on land donated by James Whitcomb Riley. The construction was completed in October 1917.

Designed by Paul Cret and built in the Greek Doric style, it was considered architecturally to be one of the most outstanding library structures in the United States. The exterior is fittingly of Indiana limestone built on a base of Vermont marble, with carved stone cornices adding to its beauty. A broad expanse of steps leads up to the entrance, which is framed with impressive Greek columns.

The gates at the Cret Building’s main entrance on St. Clair Street were given by Indianapolis school children. The bronze gates were purchased with pennies by the children. The bronze tables on each of the massive wrought iron gates contain the inscription: “The gates are the gift of the children of Indianapolis in loving remembrance of their friend James Whitcomb Riley.”


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Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn

Rita Kohn has been covering craft beer and the arts for NUVO for two decades. She’s the author of True Brew: A Guide to Craft Beer in Indiana.

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