Central Library Tour

“Learn the history of our almost 150-year-old library system [founded 1864] and experience the beauty and grandeur of our almost 100-year-old Central Library [opened 1913]. Take a guided tour of Portland’s “Crown Jewel,” which is on the National Register of Historic Places.”

I’m at Central practically every day. I had taken a Behind the Scenes tour of it last summer. I read Richard E Ritz’s book “Central Library: Portland’s Crown Jewel.” And, still, I wanted to learn more!

I’m glad that they’re offering tours to the public now. Even a frequent library user like me, I learned something new! (It was easy to reserve a spot on their updated “Events and Classes” page.)

Ten people had signed up for this particular tour but there were only three of us (plus the tour guide) who showed up. It was a beautiful spring day, after all. One was a gentleman who seemed genuinely curious about the library. The other was a lady who volunteers at the Friends Store.

From what I gather, there’s not a set guide for these tours so we were lucky that we had a fun, knowledgeable librarian. Another good thing was that this was during open hours so while we were learning about the history, we were seeing the library in action- people browsing the shelves for books, people using the internet, and people were dropping off their ballots- hopefully voting yes on Measure 26-125.

We started at the Welcome Desk. If people just hurried past the doors to the main library, as they usually do, they’d miss out on a couple of interesting things- like the Garden Wreath above them and the famous Jorge Luis Borges quote ”I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library” greeting everyone.

I finally found out who’s responsible for the ever changing flower display on the first floor landing! It’s a nice story I’d leave for you guys to discover. After the children’s room, we headed to the fifth floor and took in the views and peered out at the eco-roof. (The eco-roof tours are starting up as well.)

I was kind of bummed that the John Wilson Special Collections is still being renovated, especially after finding out what rare books they contained- including rare first editions of children’s literature and a great number devoted to the book arts.

Aside from the beautiful architectural background, we learned about all the awesome people who helped Central and Multnomah County Library become the awesome institution it is today – John Wilson and Mary Frances Isom, just to name a couple.

I know I’m leaving a lot of things out but did you know that there are eight floors that make up Central? Or that there’s a room where famous local writers had probably worked on their books? Find these things out- and other interesting information- by taking the tour!

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