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Students "Checked Out" the Main Library
March 31, 2007

Students at the Cleveland Public LibraryDid you know that the Cleveland Public Library is the third largest research library in the United States? It's an exciting place with more than just good books. That's what 34 students and 20 adults from the Saturday Tutoring Program discovered when they toured the library's magnificent buildings, used the computer lab, and held a discussion in the auditorium.

Tours began in the Main library, an historic building built in 1925. Librarians encouraged the students to find the "lamp of knowledge" motif above the doors; they searched for readers, writers and musicians painted on the ceiling in the lobby; and they compared old and new murals of Public Square. The students also learned some trivia—since there were no fire sprinkler systems in 1925, no wood was used to construct the Main library. All of the "woodwork" in the Research Department is really metal or plaster that is painted to look like wood.

The students climbed the beautiful marble staircases to explore the rest of the building. They saw the John G. White Collection of chess sets and rare books. They were amazed to see the smallest book in the world, which is about one-sixteenth of an inch tall and has 11 tiny pages. Peering into a showcase, fourth-grader Cameron copied several lines from a 600-year-old cuneiform manuscript.

Then the groups proceeded to the Louis Stokes Wing, where they used the computer lab. One of the librarians demonstrated how to access the website. This site enables children anywhere in Ohio to "chat" online with a real, live librarian who can help them find material they need for school assignments. A student can type in a question from wherever they are. A librarian types back with useful sources of information.

The Stokes Wing lobby has brightly-colored mosaics that feature the same "lamp of knowledge" motif seen in the Main building. Kyle, an eleventh-grader, said the lamp's flames could represent a "fire" for learning.

Hopefully this visit to the library will fuel the students' "fire" for learning and reading. Writer Isaac Asimov once said, "I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it."

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Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Cleveland, OH 44106