Libraries on the Road: Off to Cleveland

After several months at home, this week it is time to take a business trip and I’m not looking forward to it. While sometimes I’ve been sent to the suburbs of New York City or even Belgium, this time it’s to Ohio. And I’m not just going to Ohio which sounds really boring, it’s in rural Ohio. However, over the course of several business trips I’ve learned ways to even make trips to places I’d prefer to avoid, an interesting experience. It just takes a bit more creativity and a bit of searching. And this trip’s search turned up the unexpected: Instead of flying to the closest airport with a direct flight from Toronto, take on an extra few minutes’ driving time and land in Cleveland.

At this point, I know only two things about Cleveland. The first is that in 1986 an attempt to launch the most helium balloons resulted in a surreal and comically disastrous result immortalized in the film below:

The second thing I know is that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is there. My boss has told me in the past that it’s an excellent experience and so I plan a stop there.

After I book my flight, I realize one more thing that must be true about Cleveland: They have to have a library. Why not visit the library while I’m there and see how other cities do it.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was excellent, lots of history to learn from, and things to make nearly everyone nostalgic. I heard so many 40, 50, and even 60-something people singing along with music or wearing the headphones from an exhibit dancing happily. And there was no shortage of stuff from my own childhood to make me nostalgic.


(Many folks my age will instantly recognize this piece of original animation art. Others may not find it so familiar and so I submit this video – one I watched countless times in my teens.

After several hours at the museum, it is time to find my way to drive in to downtown Cleveland and find my way to their main library. I really hate driving in cities – or at all these days so the idea of dealing with city traffic and finding parking is really daunting. I come very close to talking myself out of the whole thing. At this point, tired and overwhelmed, I tell myself “How good can it be? Why not just leave…”

I talk myself in to going, though. How many chances will I get to see Cleveland’s library – whatever it might look like. In the end the traffic is nearly nonexistent and I find a parking garage across from the library. And I am shocked at what I see.  From the sixth floor rooftop of the parking garage I get my first glimpse of the library.


The library is absolutely massive – and stunning.


Later I realize that this picture I took just to show the view from the rooftop shows the rest of the library. That rounded glass building is also part of the main library.  While the first shot was of the original four story building made in 1925, this newer, ten story building was completed and added in 1997. This may well be the biggest library I’ve ever visited and the offerings are amazing.


It is so big, in fact, that I really can only see the main building on this trip. Such a shame because there is so much more to be seen.

I cross the street and see the building up close. It is beautiful in the way that so many buildings from the 1920’s are. Formidable and ornate with a willingness to spend money on details that would not be cared about for many years after the great depression hit a few years later.


Note the beautiful details of the 20’s in this.


And the influence of today in the diversity of who welcomes us.


And a bit of a glimpse of what life is like in the US in the twenty-first century greets us before we go in.

I gasp audibly when I go in. The entry area is absolutely stunning.



The 1920’s – when ceilings with beautiful murals were still very much a thing.


Each floor of the main library is almost three stories high. Three of these reading rooms are arranged on the outside of the building with stacks arranged on the inside for browsing.


Stacks are accessible from the reading rooms with a few staircases provided to get to the bookshelves. From there you can get a view of the reading room below.


As I browse I am interested to notice that this library does not use the Dewey Decimal system that I’ve seen in every other public library I’ve been to. Instead, the Library of Congress system is used. I haven’t seen this since I was in University.

notdeweyI browse some to get a feel for what their collection has. The magazines and newspaper section reminds me that I’m in the US.

This sight makes me agree with the sign I see in the maker space:


But those newspapers were not indicative of the political bent of the library but more a reflection of their desire to cater to all patrons. There’s definitely some great stuff to be seen there also:


I walk further and come across a bit of nostalgia. I remember when I visited the library in Mumbai, there was a card catalog still there but when I tried to show Daegan how it worked, I was reprimanded by staff. It was not to be touched. There was one here, though, that was available for everyone to see.

Who of my readers remembers when this was how you used the library? Does anyone still use them?

I do take a few minutes to check out the lower level of the new building. There I find a maker space not unlike one we have in Toronto. It’s a beautiful space and filled with so many people I couldn’t take as many photos as I’d like.


I particularly loved these models made from carefully cut corrugated cardboard.

Back in the other building again I explored the other floors of the main building. While there I found some beautiful art.


and a beautiful mural that appears to be from near the time the library was built based on its style.


And even an entire exhibit of interesting and creative chess sets.


On the third floor I visited the special collections section where I learned some details I didn’t know about the religious history of the region.


After I got a few floors up I was able to get a look at the view out the window. If you look carefully, you can see Lake Erie in the distance.


And finally I headed to the top floor where I checked out their international languages section. I was very impressed by the variety of their offerings. There were great offerings for children:

Lots of languages to choose from for adults:

Some niche offerings:

chineseromanceukrainAnd of course I couldn’t leave without checking out their Hindi offerings. I didn’t see many picture books – which is still where I’m at comprehension-wise. But once I improve, there would be tons of offerings.

In the end I spend nearly as much time in this library as I did the museum earlier in the day – and I still only saw one of the two buildings and one of the 27 branches they have in the city.

With a nearly three hour drive ahead of me and the day coming to an end I had to get on my way. As I drove to the tiny Ohio town where I would spend the next three days I thought about what this particular library visit taught me. It taught me a couple of things.

First and foremost, it taught me that I had a bit of a bias in thinking that Toronto had all of the best libraries and a city that clearly loves and appreciates them. There’s at least one other city in the US and probably more. (I’d love to hear about your own city’s libraries and love for them in the comments or even full entries)

And second, I noticed how much my perception of Cleveland as a whole changed just by visiting the library. Before I visited I didn’t know much about the city but had assumed it was a fairly nondescript medium-sized American city. Visiting the library showed me the varied interests of its people. It impressed me as a city that loves knowledge. From this I learned that so much of what I look for in a city I might live in is what I’ll call the city’s “library culture”. If the city loves its library it will likely be a place that I love as well.

Of course as long as there’s a demand for newspapers and magazines like I saw there – and a need for a “Hey, don’t bring your guns in here.” sign on the door, I’ll not be moving from our current library-loving city any time soon.


11 thoughts on “Libraries on the Road: Off to Cleveland

  1. Oh man, that library is beautiful. The libraries I’ve been to here in Las Vegas aren’t so great but there’s one in Minneapolis that is out of this world, so beautiful & large. It’s like a castle.

    I love the mural ceilings & the salt & pepper chesr set is too cool!!

  2. I grew up with a similar magnificent library in Portland, Oregon. They unfortunately “restored it” twenty years ago removing the wonderful marble steps which we worn down where many feet had climbed to the top floor before an elevator was installed. I used to listen to music with headphones on one of their many turntables.

    1. I loved doing that – and in my school we had book and record sets we could listen to with records. Those were great. They still have turntables at the Toronto Reference Library. I should go down and enjoy one sometime.

      What a shame they did that restoration. The old styles were so wonderful. I feel like more recently people are getting better at keeping the old and building on it rather than destroying it but man, the 80’s and 90’s were a terrible time for that sort of architectural heresy.

      1. The library had a wonderful collection of classical music which disappeared in the remodel. They maintained they were “restoring” the building, but it suffered from the experience. It was in the mid 90’s.

      2. Awww – that’s too bad. I know that our library got rid of a lot of vinyl in the past few years – much to the delight, I’m sure, of collectors!

  3. Hello Todd, I’m glad you enjoyed your brief time in Cleveland! The Rock Hall and the downtown library are some of my favorite experiences here in our recovering Rust Belt city. I hope you can make it back to check out Playhouse Square and the Cleveland Museum of Art and some of the fantastic food and drink offerings across the region! Everyone always tells me there’s nothing to do here, but I’m on a mission to change their minds!

    1. I definitely got a feel that there was more there than met the eye. Sadly, I think Rust Belt cities have been the punch line for jokes for so long that there’s a huge disconnect between perception and reality. I hope I get to go back soon to see more. It was such a pleasant surprise.

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.