Forbes Library, Volume II

When we were still in the Berkshires and considering a move to Northampton, every person we mentioned it to had exactly the same comment: Oh, it’s so vibrant! It got so we expected it, and sure enough, it came every time: Northampton is so vibrant!

They didn’t mention quirky, which was perhaps the first attribute that struck us after the move. The vibrancy took a little longer for us to recognize —

For instance, the Forbes Library isn’t going to win any prizes for beauty, heavy as it is, and rather frowning in aspect:

So it might be natural to expect a heavy, dullish, staid kind of place. But (as the French say) au contraire. Behind the fortress-like stones hums a veritable beehive of activity of every kind representing the larger diverse community that is Northampton itself. As Walt Whitman said, “I am not contain‘d between my hat and boots … I contain multitudes”; and so does the Forbes Library. (A literary reference seems appropriate when writing about a library.)

To begin at the top, perhaps, the towering staircase to the second floor brings you to the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum:

It’s the only presidential library in the U.S. contained in a public library. Coolidge was mayor of Northampton, governor of Massachusetts, and 30th president of the United States, and far and away our town’s most famous political figure. His nickname was “Silent Cal,” so don’t expect any flamboyance, unlike today’s current crop of politicians. His most famous saying was “The business of America is business,” which is true so far as it goes, and he in fact was a Republican and a conservative (back in the day when that word meant something vastly different from today). But the speech in which he said it ends like this:

We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction.

How very New England it is, that blend of pragmatism and idealism, and how difficult it is to achieve a beneficial balance!

Political and social historians, among others, climb those steep steps for research. College and high school students — students being an overwhelming presence in Northampton and the whole Happy Valley — seek out the Forbes for their own research purposes, and find private nooks in which to pursue it, as, here, on the balcony:

The opposite extreme, perhaps, is found in the basement, where among many other groups can be found the monthly meeting of Laugh for the Health of It. Don’t, please — laugh, that is. Unless you’re ready to come and try it. Frank and I did, and ended up refreshed, exhilarated, and exhausted! (You can see John Cleese at a meeting of a laughter yoga group in India, which is the parent of all such groups, right here:

Quirky enough for you? (If you think I’m showing you a photo of us laughing in the library basement, you’ve got another think coming!)

So from top to bottom, the Forbes contains multitudes. There’s a big Children’s Library, and it holds events for infants to preteens; there are book discussion groups of myriad categories, including mysteries, which I keep promising myself I’ll get to but haven’t yet; there are poetry groups and a writer’s room, and authors’ readings, and gentle yoga, and drop-in computer help, and a knitting clinic and the Northampton Playwrights’ Lab, to say nothing of the Hosmer Art Gallery with monthly-changing exhibits, and special performances of many kinds — and that doesn’t exhaust the list.

But always we come back to the business of libraries (as Silent Cal might have said), which is BOOKS. There’s a very large reading room, and many smaller areas scattered throughout the ground floor, and a vast double array of stacks, enough to keep the most inveterate bookworm well supplied. You can sit at a table, with or without your laptop, or you can find comfy chairs, like in this nook, to curl up in and read, or dream:

And not least of all, in a town where parking is a major headache, you can find a nice big parking lot behind the building. Yes, there are parking meters and fees, but in that perfect mix of practicality and idealism I spoke about, you don’t even mind  paying the 25 cents an hour, because where do you suppose your money goes? You got it! It buys BOOKS.

Lest you be under any impression that all this vibrancy somehow trumps quirky, well, you’ll be reassured when, on these December days with winter breathing down our necks, you’re greeted by Judge Forbes himself in bronze and warm wool:

Long live vibrancy, quirkiness, and the Forbes Library!

This entry was posted in Etcetera, Photography, Pioneer Valley, Quotes, Reading and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Forbes Library, Volume II

  1. Patti Kuche says:

    Am putting Northampton on the “must visit” list! Your post reminded me of the treasure behind the walls of the wonderful library in downtown Los Angeles. Well worth a visit!


  2. Oh my, if the staff of the library read this you will be besieged with requests to be an on-hand Forbes guide! Why you’ve only published one book is beyond me. You make quirky and vibrant well worth 25 cents an hour!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Quirky and vibrant? Definitely worth the 25 cents. (And I haven’t even talked about the Guastavino tiled ceilings 😉

      P.S. Actually published two books, but there you are, in 77 years, not so much!!!


  3. jakesprinter says:

    Your subject for your photograph and story are good 🙂


  4. what a great place to wander, to curl up and read, or sit by the window and dream.


  5. Rebekah says:

    What a nice library … loved the nook!

    When I told people back home that I was moving to Quebec City, many of them responded «Ohhh!!! That’s so ROMANTIC!


  6. With each post, I keep liking Northampton more and more. I do enjoy a good library. I am quite passionate about books for everyone! I never knew the fact about the presidential libraries. Thank you for not only a fun post, but an educational post as well!


  7. Jo Bryant says:

    This is such a great post – I would love to visit here


  8. barb19 says:

    It’s a beautiful Library, and it’s good to know that the people of Northampton are make such good use of it – all those activities going on – you wouldn’t get bored, would you? There is something for everyone, young and old!
    I love that grand old staircase, it looks so solid – something of a rarity these days.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      All true, Barb —
      except for aging knees, that staircase is a killer! They have, of course, an elevator tucked away, but I don’t do elevators!
      Hope it’s a beautiful spring/summer day in Oz, it’s a gray chilly precipitating wintry one here — 😦


  9. frizztext says:

    I’m amused to hear, that you once used the Schwebebahn in Wuppertal too!
    Wuppertal, Schwebebahn, me
    photo: me sitting in the Schwebebahn


    • Touch2Touch says:

      This is a marvelous picture of you, frizztext! And a good photo of the Schwebebahn also —
      My husband keeps insisting he would never have ridden on an upside-down train —
      but he did! It didn’t even seem so strange 🙂


  10. I agree the interior more than makes up for the rather unpromising facade! And I’m intrigued by the idea of laughter therapy – such a simple but effective idea – loved the video links. I’m enjoying these glimpses of your lovely town!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      The Forbes is hardly an example of (for instance) Scandinavian beautiful architecture 😉
      For that matter, neither is Northampton. We get by on quirky and vibrant (more 😉
      but we’d love to have you come and visit! I’ve very much enjoyed your glimpses of other parts of this big wide world —
      I wonder what you’d make of New England!


  11. thirdhandart says:

    You captured a very nice reflection in the windows (first photo). I’ll have to agree that Judge Forbes (last photo) looks a bit quirky compared to the beautiful, old architecture. But, thank you for allowing me to visit the Forbes Library in Northampton via the Internet. It was both fun and educational.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Thanks so much for visiting, Theresa!
      I’m working now on a post to show you our town’s VERY unusual shopping mail. Funky and quirky to the max —
      It should be fun — educational, hmmmmm —


  12. munchow says:

    I like books and I like libraries. Forbes Library looks like a beautiful building even if it’s a little heavy from the outside. Long live vibrancy! I enjoyed reading your encounter with the library


  13. Stef says:

    A” blend of pragmatism and idealism” is sometimes difficult to achieve, indeed – and yet it looks like your library does so abundantly and beautifully! 🙂


  14. Alison says:

    What an amazing library! It’s wonderful to see a spot where knowledge and community are still so intertwined. Kennis en cultuur (knowledge and culture), as the Dutch would say, and which is one of the modern mottoes of Utrecht. And a bit of quirk with the scarf and hat on the sculpture rounds it off perfectly! That mystery discussion group also sounds like a lot of fun.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Maybe your comment will be the push that finally gets me to the mystery discussion group in 2012!
      Yesterday (cold, brutal wind) Mr. Forbes was wearing a leopard knit ski cap with little ears —
      Happy New Year to you, Alison!
      (and much kennis en cultuur for our respective cities)


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