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BEST LIBRARY Minneapolis 2007 - St. Paul Central Library

It's a sad state of affairs that this seems unusual, but: an urban library that's open seven days a week! Actually, that's true of a couple of St. Paul neighborhood branches too, and the downtown location does have limited evening hours—just Mondays till 8:00—but that seems to fit just fine with its setting, which gets sleepy pretty early at night. (In Minneapolis, there's not a single city library currently open on Sunday or Monday—a criminal shame indeed.) Of course, there's a lot more to our favorite library than access. There's the 350,000-strong book collection and more than 70 computer stations, plus extensive music and movie holdings (the documentary DVD selection is particularly solid). There are plenty of story times and other activities for kids, plus special events—in September, there'll be a huge celebration of the St. Paul Public Library's 125th year of official existence (a reading room started even earlier, though, in 1856). There's also Zelda's Café downstairs, so one can easily make a day of a library visit, breaking for coffee and a pastry or sandwich without leaving the building. And that brings us to what we like best about this library: the building itself. Built in 1917 and renovated in 2000-02, this Italian-Renaissance revival-style structure is nothing short of gorgeous. Marble staircases lead to the Nicholson Commons on the second floor, where you'll find the main reference desk in a room with large, arched windows and gold-leaf chandeliers. Across the hall, nonfiction resides in another beautiful, hushed room, with a paneled ceiling featuring paintings of the muses. Up another floor you'll find the stately Mississippi Room, which houses fiction and special collections and offers a view of the river, and the elegant Magazine Room, which holds a treasure trove of microfilm and microfiche records and currently features a display of books and documents offering more than you ever wanted to know about F. Scott Fitzgerald. Spending just a short time in these opulent yet serious surroundings can make a person feel a little smarter, and we love that in a library.
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