Recently I wrote a post about the cherry blossoms at the University of Washington here in Seattle. I didn’t want to take away from their glory by including information about a little side trip we took to the UW Library. It’s amazing and deserves its own focus.
I absolutely adore libraries. Everything about them. They house knowledge and truth. My mother once told me as a child that when you enter a library you can go anywhere in the universe. To this day, I get butterflies whenever I go into one. I love how each one has its own personality, and I particularly love the ones that have their own intimate little nooks and crannies.
This was my first time entering the UW library. I don’t know. I just assumed you couldn’t go in there unless you were a student. But we were allowed in. Granted, we wouldn’t be able to check anything out, but it was the ambience I was looking for. And the UW library is chock full of ambience.
The first place we went was the reading room in the Suzallo Library, where I took this picture.
Wow. I mean… wow. I felt smarter just walking in there. The 65-foot-high vaulted ceiling alone took my breath away. The unique leaded glass windows, I learned, include the shapes of 28 Renaissance watermarks that one can see in a book that the library bought back in 1923.
The chandeliers are absolutely gorgeous, too. Especially the ones in the shape of globes. And the top of the oak bookcases that line the walls are carved in the shapes of native plants. I love that the books in this room are shelved randomly, “to encourage exploration and discovery.” I’ve never heard of a library doing this. Pretty darned cool.
Near the grand stairway (which is, indeed, grand), there’s one of the biggest books in the world. It’s called Bhutan:A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom, and believe me when I say that it’s not something that you’d just toss on your book shelf. Opened up, the thing is at least 6 feet long. They have it displayed under glass, and the librarians turn a page about once a month.
We also checked out the Allen Library, which was added on in 1990. It includes a really cool art installation called “Raven Brings Light to This House of Stories”. Each raven is carrying symbols from other cultures of the world. There’s also a large prayer wheel that a local artist created as a gift for the Dalai Lama, who then turned around and donated it to the university. (I just love that man.)
I wish I had looked more closely at the brochure that the nice gentleman at the information desk gave me, because we missed a few neat things, like the cast of a 28-foot Pleistocene era crocodile, and the statues along the façade of the building of notable contributors to learning and culture, including my personal hero, Ben Franklin.
Yay! An excuse to go back!
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I think I’ve added another tradition to my Seattle calendar—that of enjoying the cherry blossoms on the campus of the University of Washington every spring. A more delightful sight you will never see. For me it symbolizes beginnings. It’s a time of awakening, of starting anew.
This year the blooms were at their height on March 22nd, so a friend and I packed a picnic lunch and seemed to travel back in time to Hogwarts. The campus is stunning any time of year, and its buildings are truly Harry-Potter-magical. But when you throw cherry blossoms into the mix, it’s beyond compare.
According to this article on the King5 website, “The UW cherry blossom trees, which are over 80 years old, were a gift from then-Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki in 1912 to mark a friendship between the United States and Japan. Thirty-four trees were planted in Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum; later, 31 of the trees were relocated to the UW and are now planted in the Quad.”
I don’t know if I could have been a student at UW. There’s a posted sign on the Quad that instructs you not to climb these trees, but their amazingly twisted and gnarled trunks just beg for your interaction. I’d probably not make it a week before being tossed out. But fortunately, this is also a great place to visit.
Since I’m told they’re worth a thousand words, what follows are some pictures that I took. (Well, except the aerial one. I wish I could take a picture like that!) You’ll notice it was still a cold, wet day. This is, after all, Seattle. So for our picnic, we huddled in an alcove and tried to avoid the cold wind. But would I do it again? In a heartbeat!
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It was a beautiful day. In truth, every day has been beautiful since the day I arrived, so I’m really beginning to wonder about all these dire warnings about rain. But I digress.
I had an errand to run downtown, so while I was there I decided to take a tour of the main branch of the public library. I have to admit that I was predisposed to love this library. It’s a rare library that I don’t love. But this one, I’ve got to say, is exceptionally amazing. Just approaching the building is a visual treat.
[Image credit: jamesewingphotography.com]
And then when you go inside, you’re almost overwhelmed with this place’s personality. It’s all about being unique and quirky and inviting. I got a map at the front desk, hopped on the lemon yellow escalator and took the self-guided tour. What a delight.
On the main floor, the coolest thing is just that, the floor. An artist named Ann Hamilton turned it into a floor of letters. All across it are quotes from books that can be found in the collection, in a variety of languages and writing styles. For some reason it’s in reverse, which just makes it more challenging and fun.
And they’ve got this automated book return that is fascinating to watch. Think of the package sorter conveyor belts from the movie The Polar Express. They have 400 computers for public use, and it seemed like the majority of them were being used, and yet people were being respectfully quiet. And the nonfiction collection spirals gently up 4 floors, in continual Dewey decimal order, with the numbers written in the carpet.
When you go to the conference room floor, you are plunged into this insane red world. Red floors, red walls, red ceilings, red doors. You almost feel as if you have been shrunk down and injected into someone’s bloodstream, a la Fantastic Voyage. They say the actual meeting rooms are a calm pastel color, but I was afraid to peek into any of them for fear there was a meeting in progress.
I know this isn’t the best picture, but my camera had a hard time understanding all this red. So did I.