Check Out Boston Public Library

IMG_4707People rarely put a city’s central library on a list of must sees. The New York Public Library reading room is an obvious exception, and the Library of Congress is in a class by itself. So when my waitress at Cafe G at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum urged me to check out the Boston Public Library and take the tour offered once daily, I listened.

Fortunately admission is free and the tour is also free. This is a theme at the Boston Public Library. “Free For All” is carved in stone over the entrance. The Boston Public Library is the first large library in the nation. It was remarkable that the founding donors who started with a few rooms of books to lend in 1848 opened it to all–even the hordes of Irish and German immigrants who crowded the city at that time.

The Central Library building on Copley Square occupies a full city block. It has occupied this third home since 1895. They spared no expense on the art and architecture, hence the value of a tour from a well-trained docent like Gail. We met in the front foyer and the tour covered a lot of ground from outside the entrance to the third floor galleries to the inner courtyard. It was wonderful to learn more about the politics and controversy that gave us such a beautiful community asset.

Gail explained the blanks on the John Singer Sargent gallery, but only alluded to some conflict that prevented us from seeing the Whistler paintings in the Reading Room. It is all very interesting and worth the investment of an hour.

I also arrived early and enjoyed lunch at the Map Room Cafe. The food is all “to go” so I took my yummy Cobb salad to the nearby courtyard and enjoyed a wonderful dining experience next to the fountain. There is also a Newsfeed cafe in the new modern addition where you’ll find the Children’s Library on the second level. Or you can pay $40 per person and go all out for high tea at the Courtyard Restaurant.

Copley Square has a lot going on. The John Hancock tower is nearby. The Old South Church is the other side of Boylston Street from the library. Also straddling Boylston at the modern library entrance is the Boston Marathon finish. This is also the site of the Patriots Day bombing. Thankfully the area has fully recovered.

One block away is Newbury Street, the main shopping street of the Back Bay neighborhood. Boston is a small big city and it doesn’t take long to walk to Berklee College of Music and the Boston Museum of Art or on to Boston Public Garden.

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