It is one of my favorite buildings in Memphis; its architectural design one of the most eye-catching to me and it provides a space for us to truly consider what renowned American architect Thom Mayne states is the purpose of architecture: “a way of seeing, thinking and questioning our world and our place in it.” Now of course with this being the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library there is so much more we can explore besides architecture and that is exactly what we do at this centrally-located gathering place where everyone is welcome and where, over time, everybody knows your name- and they’re always glad you came.
Like many libraries across the country, Memphis’ central library has had to find ways to reinvent itself as the era of card catalogs and endless shelves of books came to an end with advancements in technology, inclusive of eBooks and online searches at our fingertips. More so than many libraries I’ve visited around the country, our city’s has done a phenomenal job with its “new identity”, embracing this era of technology while remaining a cultural, artistic, entertainment and community hub for residents of all ages. Toddlers walk through a brightly-colored “forest” en route to story time in the children’s area where their love of reading is nurtured alongside the need for sensory explorations with events such as Crafternoon and Music Hour. Teens come together to problem-solve and collaborate in CLOUD901, a technology lab spanning 8300 square feet that you must see in person to grasp the impact it has on these young, malleable minds. No kids (or need a short break from yours)? No problem: take in an art exhibit!
Numerous exhibits presented in the library’s Goodwyn Gallery have provided a myriad of teachable moments for me. Their visual representations of the struggles and sacrifices endured by our city’s residents in their fight for equal rights evoked a visceral reaction much stronger than when I learned about them from the pages of a book. Hence, I am looking forward to the March opening of Striking Voices: The Portraits- “a multimedia journalism project centered around in-depth video interviews with the 1968 Memphis sanitation strikers and their families.” Its display will coincide with our nation’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, which took place only six miles from the library’s current location. Dr. King’s untimely death occurred the day after he arrived in Memphis to help fight for the sanitation workers’ rights to fair wages and working conditions. At the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, you will see and hear their stories.
When we experience unusually frigid temperatures in the Mid South, those who need a warm place to stay can come here and spend the night (it is a designated warming center). When Mother Nature comes to her senses, the Children’s Courtyard is an aesthetically interesting place to take in the sun’s rays while surrounded by a “rain forest of sculptures” that includes tile mosaic animals such as an anteater and a tree frog. On the other hand, if you would like to be outdoors but a work project deems it necessary that you be inside at a desk, consider reserving one of the private study rooms on the library’s upper floors. I have often spent an entire day in one of these rooms with floor to ceiling windows that offer such a beautiful view I imagine this is what it must feel like to work from a high-rise corner office. Except this “office” is open to anyone on a first-come, first-served basis- no executive status required.
If you haven’t been to our city’s central library yet, please consider visiting soon. Through all of its various resources, perhaps you will see, think about and question our world in ways you haven’t before.
The Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library is located at 3030 Poplar Avenue, in Memphis, Tennessee.
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