Margaret Rozga, poet, civil rights activist and professor emerita of English at UW-Waukesha, calls attention to the Milwaukee Public Library as a place for diverse Milwaukeeans to come together to learn and build community.
I love the Milwaukee Public Library. Every square inch of it. The elegant doors and staircases of the Central Library downtown. The entire 1898 building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The computer rooms both downtown and at neighborhood libraries filled with the energy of young people at work on school projects. I love every program the library offers, every program hosted there, especially every inviting outreach effort. If you haven’t been to the library lately, if you hunger for beauty these days as I do, make a visit to the library a must-do for 2017.
I fell in love with the Milwaukee Public library when at 6 years old I first learned to print my name, and my mother took me to the Forest Home library for my very own library card. After this important rite of passage, I could join our family tradition of bi-weekly trips to the library as an active participant, selecting books and withdrawing them in my own name.
As a high school and college student, doing research for papers I had to write became a joy as I discovered the wealth of books and periodicals at the downtown library. I sometimes met friends, classmates and cousins there also doing research in the spacious, well-lit rooms of this beautiful, well-designed building. Now my grandchildren continue to enjoy the tradition of frequent trips to the library. The Children’s Room at the Central Library not only features bookshelves at heights convenient for young readers, but comfortable reading nooks and places to climb and explore.
As I look back at 2016, I find that many of the events I enjoyed most this year were at 814 W. Wisconsin Ave., the Central Library. It is one of the places in Milwaukee frequented by people of all ages, income levels, races and ethnicities. It is a place where Milwaukee comes together.
In February, America’s Black Holocaust Museum had its Founders’ Day celebration at the Central Library’s Centennial Hall. This event featured the release of a new edition of founder James Cameron’s memoir A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story, a performance of three one-act plays bringing to life events from black history, followed by what Milwaukee urgently needs: discussion of racial issues as they have developed in history and continue to influence the present, especially in Milwaukee. The library will again host America’s Black Holocaust Museum’s Founder’s Day celebration in February 2017.
Library-sponsored events also bring together people of diverse groups for thoughtful, aesthetically enriching and community-engaging programs. Among the most enjoyable are the Library Loud Days. This summer’s event included closing Wisconsin Avenue in front of the Central Library so the evening could begin with festive outdoor street dining. Inside the library, interactive displays were stationed throughout the main floors. The popular Milwaukee band New Age Narcissism set the main reading room to rocking.
At Halloween, the library became “Haunted Central” and was transformed into a giant haunted house, including the “Forbidden Fourth Floor” where you were invited to enter “if you dare.” The library website describes these Library Loud free community events as a way of turning the libraries into lively gathering places: “Places to converse and explore. Places filled with movies, music, art, e-books, e-mags, laptops, and of course, a couple million books.” My visits to the library show how successful these programs are at providing Milwaukee with much-needed beautiful spaces to gather and to access valuable resources. I’m happy to pay taxes for community-enhancing and community-building benefits like these.
Whenever I go to a Milwaukee Public Library, especially the Central Library, I allow extra time to savor the ambience. I usually find myself reaching for my cell phone to take a picture of yet another beautiful corner, wall, fixture or display I hadn’t noticed before. For all my love of what the Milwaukee Public Library is and does, I appreciate it for another reason as well. Every inch of its beauty speaks of government that makes the common good a top priority. May this continue to be the philosophy that governs Milwaukee.