There are unavoidable rituals that must get accomplished upon arrival in a new city. To get roots into the ground, one generally seeks a reference and establishes relationships with highly meaningful local places.
The first on the list are usually pubs. Once you can walk into a pub after a day’s work, looking tired and burdened by the weight of many responsibilities, yet keeping cool, acting like an old timer and answering the barman’s greet with a cheerful "Hey Shawn, how’s it going tonight?", you’ve got it made, you’re a local. You’re part of the few, the proud.
The next anchor will be entertainment and sports. Know a few clubs, bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms and you’re even better rooted. Now you can talk proudly about the latest event at the Commodore Ballroom, praise the quality of independent coffee shops like the Trees Organic Coffee House as opposed to Evil Empire Starbucks, report seeing a flick a Burrard’s latest Paramount cinemas, argue about the excellence of the Granville Island Brewing Co. tap beer served at the Kingston, discuss the menu of Rob Feenie’s Lumiere restaurant and expertly compare the snow quality of Cypress, Grouse and Seymour.
Then there’s usually a long flirtatious relationship with the local newspapers, a couple of radio stations and maybe even TV. It’s all about discussing the same news with the same friends every morning, and bringing forward suggestions for the morning crossword puzzle. This is an anchor I usually avoid like the plague.
And finally comes the public library. In this case, I have no idea why I hadn’t been there yet; maybe it had to do with the utter disappointment I felt after visiting Montreal’s new Central Library last year, which sadly turned out to be an ugly cubic building with no open spaces, low ceilings and prevailing darkness.
Well the Vancouver Central Public Library is all the opposite (do we detect a pattern, here? ;-) ) When I walked in, my first thought immediately went to Salt Lake City’s Central Public Library. The architectural resemblance was striking. A huge windowed wall, 6 or 7 floors high, opening onto a semicircular hall of grandiose proportions. Then I remembered that both libraries were actually the creation of the same man, architect Moshe Safdie (who is also behind the Habitat 67 in Montreal).
Vancouver’s Central Public Library outer shape is a strange one; it was very controversial when built. Many claimed that it too openly imitated the Coliseum and had nothing to do with Vancouver (a resemblance denied by Safdie). In any case, the building’s complicated design is an eye catcher. So much so that it was featured in the movie "The Sixth Day" with California’s Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The library consists of an inner rectangular pavilion contained into a free-standing elliptical belt and towered by an external adjoining matching office tower.The ellipse moves away from the cube on its east side to form the giant entry hall where coffee shops are lined up, but it touches it on its western side through bridges that leap from the main structure across reading areas located on the narrow elliptic crown.
The building is complex but attractive and pleasant to be in. White painted bookshelf-room ceilings are 13 feet high and reflect the diffuse lightning, creating a very comfortable reading environment. Each of the 7 levels is equipped with database and internet access computer work stations (a total of around 300 if my count was correct, half of which were internet-enabled), as well as printers and copying machines.The 32,236 square meters (347,000 sq. ft.) library has a seating capacity of 1200 people. 51 km of cable were laid out including a vertical fiber optic backbone. Documents are neatly organized on 24 km of shelving and moved around the 7 floors on horizontal and vertical conveyors. More than 1.35 million items are housed in the Central Branch, including periodicals, microforms, audio-visual and 750,000 books. It is estimated that 50% of Vancouverites have a VPL card (obtaining such a card was a painless 2 minutes process.)
And for the first time in a library, I even found a couple of PSR-180 Yamaha keyboards! For the uninitiated, these are electronic pianos. How awesome is that? Feel like playing music? Want to practice a concerto or experiment on a music research project? Have a seat and kindly wear headphones not to bother other patrons.
Now was I kidding about Vancouver or not?