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Distance Students Enjoy Multnomah Library Tour
By Sarah Bosarge
January 30, 2003

Even though the busy quarter had already started and there was a paper due that weekend, some distance MLIS students and their "regular" iSchool peers found time to attend the SALA-sponsored tour of the Multnomah County Central Library in downtown Portland on January 18. For Pat Salas and Suzy Coleman, it was an opportunity to see North America's busiest downtown library in action and also a great time to network and socialize.

The 90-year-old building in downtown Portland that houses the Central Library underwent an extensive tax-payer supported renovation in 1996-97. The renovation project included a complete seismic upgrade and installation of new cabling to support over 200 computers, more than half of which are available for public use. The library's collection is more than 1.5 million items and the library has more than 17 miles of shelving to hold it all. Some of the most unique features of the renovated Central Library are the public art installations, including the majestic etched granite staircase leading up from the front lobby, and a life-sized bronze tree in the Beverly Cleary Children's Library. "The Garden of Knowledge" is the theme that inspired the installations throughout the library.

Pat and Suzy both enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look at the busy library. Suzy enjoyed an in-house video of the technical services staff in action, complete with a Wagner-inspired soundtrack of books being delivered to the rise of "Ride of the Valkyrie." Pat was impressed by the high volume operation and the efficiency with which the library staff seems to handle the load. For Pat, who works in a corporate library, it was a chance to learn about additional career options as well as better understand the perspective of classmates working in public library settings.

Both women also appreciated the chance to talk informally with working librarians and other iSchool students. Tour leader and Reference and Information Services librarian Rivkah Sass was a "fountain of knowledge" according to Suzy, offering career advice and insight into the current job market in the Pacific Northwest. Several students also attended the Happy Hour after the tour and speculated about the future with working librarians and iSchool alumni.

For Pat and Suzy, both Portland residents, the Central Library tour provided a new perspective on a familiar place. At the Central Library patrons can refuel at a Starbucks on the first floor, hear a jazz trio playing in the lobby, take in an art exhibit at the Collins Gallery on the third floor, and browse through the Friends' Library Store. Oh, and they can check out a book or two while they're at it. Pat described the atmosphere as "eclectic" adding that it really seems to be a place that reaches out to the community. Suzy was impressed with Sunday's performance of Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying, which drew a record crowd for an adult book event at the library.

Both were glad they took the time to attend the events, especially since these activities are not always feasible for distance students who live all over the western US. Based on this experience, Pat had some ideas to pass along; "I would like to have the same kind of tour of an academic library, and would also appreciate a future panel discussion by information professionals from law, medical, and corporate libraries, and independent consultants."

For more information:

Multnomah County Central Library


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