Day 9: Public Library

Here’s the thing. I love libraries.

But I don’t really read that much. I definitely don’t read as much as someone with her Master’s in English should.

I’ll go to the library and I’ll check out ten books at once. And then I’ll return them late, have to pay a fee, and I probably didn’t even read a third of what I checked out.

It’s embarrassing. But I keep doing it. It’s something about the routine of it that comforts me. It’s like a treat. It soothes me the way drinking a chocolate shake or watching a romantic comedy would. It relaxes me.

This is especially enjoyable to do in the Main Branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library system. It’s unlike the other libraries around. It is the perfect combination of old and new. I can awe at its beauty and then hide in its stacks.


The original structure of the main branch is called the Ryerson Building and is named after the man who donated the building for the library, thus giving it a permanent home; the library was previously housed in City Hall but opened in its new residence in 1904.

The grandeur of its historic façade and the heavy wooden front doors protect a lobby of marble columns, alcove ceilings with crown molding, and decorative tiled floors. An ornate hardwood circulation desk sits in the corner opposite of a countertop of self-checkout computers, providing the charm of history with the convenience of modern day.


Marble steps lead upstairs to the magazine room and a large reception hall used for talks and panels on a variety of subjects. These rooms still emulate the vintage décor of the original building with tall iron windows and opulent moldings. I am not a magazine reader, but I make an exception for this beautiful reading room, which makes me feel like I’m studying for my PhD at some Ivy League School.


While the Ryerson portion of the library is beautiful and breathtaking, it was not nearly big enough to house the entire collection as it grew. So in 1967, a whole other building was attached to the back of the historic structure to make room for the many volumes. This building is comprised of five floors from subjects that vary from fiction for all ages to city archives to a whole collection on furniture designs, paying homage to our “Furniture City” background.


The building and its addition have gone through a number of renovations since then to make the library comfortable for patrons and impressive to passersby. If you ask me, the way it is now is perfect. It’s my favorite place in the city to blow a couple of hours meandering through the stacks and plucking books off the shelves.

For more information about the GRPL Main Branch, visit their website