By Kitty Felde 

Most people visit art museums and monuments when they visit a new city. I visit libraries.

I’ve visited a tiny community library in rural Oregon with its own vegetable garden and attended the grand reopening of a magnificent new library in Christchurch, New Zealand after a devastating earthquake destroyed the old one. 

Good design can inspire us. Colin Ellard, who researches the psychological impact of design at the University of Waterloo in Canada, says even building facades can affect us in a positive way. 

I know firsthand how the design of a library can affect reading. 

My childhood library was down the street, housed in a post-war concrete box with tiny windows covered in blinds. I loved it, but it was never crowded. 

Today, the brand new East Rancho Dominguez Library is packed with patrons, mostly tweens and littles. The day I visited, every computer and every meeting room was taken. There were so many kids, librarians set up carts full of books which disappeared like candy. Neon-colored walls and glassed-in study rooms made the library feel like an exciting place to be. A palace for the written word. A place where you wanted to spend time.

Here in Washington, we are lucky to have so many unique and inspiring libraries around the city. Note the art-filled spaces in the remodeled Martin Luther King, Jr. main branch downtown, or the glass-paneled architectural statement of the Anacostia branch. 

Our own Southwest branch is my favorite. Its inside/outside design has everything from an outdoor reading porch to solar panels and a green roof. More than that, the design of the building itself invites us to come visit, spend some time, and take home a book.

What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than to take your reluctant reader to a palace built for literature? Its beauty and grandeur subtly shows a young person how much we value the written word. 

After all, it was Winston Churchill who said, “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

Kitty Felde hosts the Book Club for Kids podcast and writes The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books and podcasts, designed to introduce civics to kids.

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