A Whole New Chapter

Tuesday, December 04, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

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.
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.
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 symbolize the impermanence of life.
Clever signage offers 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.
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.
Self-service checkout stations free library staff to assist patrons in finding information and materials.

11 a.m.  The design begins to take shape.
2:30 p.m.  Precision is evident in the execution of this intricate design.

  • 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

Wall of windows admits plenty of light.