Libraries are some of my very favorite places in the world. So it’s insane to me that I’d never been inside the Detroit Public Library before my visit last Saturday.
At least, I think I’d never been inside the library before then. I’d definitely previously examined the building’s exterior, with the names of famous philosophers and emblem of “Knowledge is power” carved into its white stone, and viewing it again made me wonder, Have I been here before and forgotten? It definitely seems like the kind of place we would’ve toured via a school field trip, such as the downtown architectural tour I took with my high school Humanities class.
Prior to writing this post, I consulted a friend who was in that class and has a memory far superior to mine, and she doesn’t recall touring the Detroit Public Library on that Humanities field trip. Whew. This place is too good not to recount on the blog, so I’m happy to be able to count it as a new-to-me place! And I hope I wouldn’t have forgotten visiting a building with as stunning an interior as this one.
Now, when I’m referring to the Detroit Public Library, I’m referring to the Main branch, the grand old building on Woodward Avenue across from the Detroit Institute of Arts. Did you know there are additional branches of the Detroit Public Library throughout the city – over twenty? I knew there were multiple locations of the DPL before recently perusing its website, but I didn’t realize there were that many!
I count 22 branches of the Detroit Public Library currently on its Locations page of its website; in its About section, it references 23 (perhaps one has closed since that was written). Either way, it’s a heck of a lot of locations, which makes me happy, because in my humble opinion, every neighborhood deserves a library.
Libraries are one of my safe spaces! I find them calm and soothing and peaceful. I’m sure much of why I feel that way has to do with the fact that I’ve adored books since I was a small child. Books are also my happy place; I love, love, love to read. Exploring the world via books is as enjoyable to me as exploring the world in real life is.
Initially, the Detroit Public Library was not looking like it was going to be a safe or happy or enjoyable space at the time of my visit. Approaching it, I heard angry yelling and spied a collection of blue-shirted men clustered near the entrance. I was confused – were the security guards arguing amongst themselves out in public? Turns out, no, the bulk of the yelling was coming from a disgruntled library patron who was being ejected.
Yikes. Libraries are generally safe spaces, but because they are spaces that are free to the public, they are liable to having the occasional tortured soul show up – like that guy, who appeared to be grappling with larger problems than being someone who got kicked out of libraries. The moment energetically threw me off, but it also imbued me with a sense of gratitude for not having bigger issues to deal with in my life than the relatively small ones I wrestle with – and for being someone who doesn’t have to worry about getting kicked out of libraries (since I am OBSESSED with them!). The fracas concluded, my curiosity took over, and I began to explore.
Something I’d assumed about the Detroit Public Library Main branch was that because the building that houses it is large, its collection must be large, as well. I didn’t find that to be the case on my visit. It’s completely possible I missed a huge swath of its collection, but from what I saw, proportionate to the size of the building, the Main Library’s holdings seem to be rather small.
But there is fiction and nonfiction and biographies and graphic novels, a teen’s section of the library, and the Burton Historical Collection, a Detroit-centric historical archive started from the donated private collection of Detroiter Clarence Monroe Burton, which I didn’t see but that sounds impressive from its description on DPL’s website. And let’s not forget that this branch share resources with over twenty other locations across the city, which is kind of mindboggling to contemplate. Over the entire network of libraries, there must be an impressive accumulation of resources.
And the space itself! As is the case with many of the buildings in Detroit, the one that houses the Main branch of the Detroit Public Library is old and elegant. It was built in 1921, in the “Italian Renaissance Style,” according to DPL’s website, and it shares those supremely grand details of that style and era. There are stained glass windows, intricate murals, gold-leaf detailing – beauty that I have neither the architectural aptitude nor vocabulary to describe. It’s stunning – just stunning!
The hall shown in the last photo displayed above was my favorite area of the building. Is that not the most magnificent place to read and work and study? I sat at one of its tables and read for about a half hour, pausing periodically to gaze in wonder at the intricate metalwork of its ceiling and the vibrant murals painted on its walls. That is beauty, my friends – this city is indeed beautiful, in large part because of the many stunning architectural gems, such as this one, that it houses.
5201 Woodward Ave.
Detroit, MI 48202
(Closed on Mondays; with over twenty additional locations with varying business hours)