A Whole New Chapter

Tuesday, December 04, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Westward Ho, Day 31:  Chehalis, WA, to Vancouver, WA

As we've come to expect, another day brought more rainy weather to western Washington.  Since we're both fighting off colds we picked up on our flight Saturday, we were determined to stick with indoor activities today.  Yet we really wanted to get back to letterboxing.  Our solution was awaiting us in the city of Vancouver (pop. 164,759).  Poised on the north bank of the Columbia River in Washington, Vancouver is considered part of the Portland, OR metropolitan area.

And like its neighbors on the other side of the river, Vancouver has just completed an extensive program of renovation and growth in its public libraries.  Just opened last summer, the crown jewel of the library system is the $38 million Vancouver Community Library, a five-story, light-filled center where citizens and visitors can gather and learn, relax and play.  Admission was free, conditions were dry, and—the pièce de résistance—more than a dozen letterboxes were hidden within.

Four-story entry atrium
When we arrived, several Tibetan monks in a large first floor community room were creating a sand mandala, an intricate image formed with colored sand.  According to Tibetan Buddhist practice, mandalas are used as tools for consecrating the earth and its inhabitants.  The monks began by drawing a sacred diagram combining intricately patterned circles and squares for the mandala.  Then different colored sand granules are applied using funnels and scrapers until the complete image is achieved.  A typical mandala is about four feet in diameter and usually requires a week or so to complete.

11 a.m.  The design begins to take shape.
Ritual is an important aspect of mandala creations.  A ceremony was held yesterday before the monks could begin their work.  After the mandala is complete, it will be ceremonially dismantled to smybolize the impermanence of life.

Clever signage provides immediate orientation
Entering the library, visitors are presented with a quick guide to navigating the facility.  But as one digs deeper, it becomes apparent that much thoughtful planning was invested in what was obviously not intended to be just a traditional book repository type of library.  Vancouver Community Library provides designated areas for a multitude of activities from sipping a cup of java to playing literacy games with your toddler.  Teens have their own center with large screen video games and materials suited to their interests.

Early Learning Center
On the children's floor, more than 4,000 square feet are devoted to an Early Learning Center, a colorful, interactive area where children from six months to age five can build their literacy skills.  Two floors above all this excitement is a designated reading room with comfortable chairs, a cozy fireplace, and doors leading to a landscaped open terrace the length of the building.

Outdoor terrace offers wifi, like the rest of the facility. (photo by All-Purpose Flower)
Thanks to the extensive use of natural light in the building design, we spent half a day exploring and searching for letterboxes without feeling we were stuck indoors.  A gracious local letterboxer, Camp Fire Lady, taught a letterboxing class at the library recently and secreted hidden treasures throughout the building for class participants and other letterboxers to find.  Her clues were clever and challenging, and the hand-carved stamps were outstanding.

Always a convenient place to stamp in.
With extensive hours and a wealth of resources, the Vancouver Community Library attracts more than one million visitors each year.  And, just think, only a tiny fraction are aware of the letterboxes hidden inside.

P.S.  By the time we left the library, the monks had achieved significant progress on the mandala.

2:30 p.m.  Precision is evident in the execution of this intricate design.

Vancouver Community Library Stats:

  • Floors:  5
  • Size:  83,000 square feet
  • Shelves:  3.8 miles
  • Books:  more than 300,000
  • Construction:  2009-2011
  • Cost:  $38 million
  • Visitors:   3,000 per day
  • Letterboxes:  15

More Photos from VCL

Wall of windows admits plenty of light.
The coffee corner
Searching for hidden treasure
In case one runs out of ideas of what to do at the library
Self-service checkout stations free library staff to assist patrons in finding information and materials.