Love the Look, Miss the Escalators: Houston Public Library Central Branch Reopens

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It was like the crowd at the end of a 10-K run or marathon. “C’mon, keep going! You can do it!” Women and men in red Houston Public Library shirts were urging us on as we made our way up flight after flight of stairs for the very grand re-opening of the library’s Central Branch in downtown Houston. The only thing missing was a high-five at the end.

We were aiming for the fourth floor and its new children and teen section and had taken the stairs because what with Saturday being opening day and all, the elevators were pretty packed. In the children’s section a loud man was enthusiastically putting on a shadow show about sharks. The teen section offered pod chairs (very occupied) for video games, a karaoke corner (unfortunately being used) and what appeared to be a pretty comprehensive Manga collection (my daughter spotted three she’d been trying to acquire for a long time) in addition to other young adult books. Rows upon rows of computers stood by private (quieter) study areas.

And yes, library officials were probably right to put it all up there where the younger and more athletic of us have a better chance of making it. At least the little kids are out of the basement now.

The new stairs are breathtaking, both in form and function. Officials said they’d decided not to replace the escalators, among other reasons, because they didn’t work all the time – they didn’t – but I was missing them anyhow. I mean, sometimes they worked.

The library was really putting on a good show. There were minor glitches at check-out, but clearly everyone – patrons and employees alike -- were so glad to be back that the feel-good mood was in high gear. Paper fans and guides to where they’ve put everything were handed out. And the new flooring both makes sense and is quieter.

There’s a fascinating section on the first floor of books and magazines in all sorts of languages and proof of how international Houston is was right there in the kids and adults reading those offerings.

There’s an entire bank of fancy new self-check out lines which worked great as long as your card hadn’t expired last month while the library was closed…

In fact the only break in the mood was as you exited the building. A security guard apparently just off duty from the court system was barking at everyone to stand in line and let her go through their bags. Those who ventured out of line to go through the other exit door were ordered to stop. Clearly the library didn’t need anyone walking off with their stuff, but funneling the crowd down to one exit with an overzealous guard was maybe not the way to go.

Outside, despite the heat, people were hanging around after the ceremony to go to the booths and play some of the games available. Concessions were nearby; the longest line by far was for snow cones.

Things will probably quiet down this week, so it’d be a good time to drop by while everything is still so shiny and new and you have a better chance to ride the elevators. Or build your calf muscles. – Margaret Downing

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