If Portland, Oregon isn’t currently one of your top choices of places to see in the United States, you might think about updating your list. Heralded as one of the ‘greenest’ cities in America, Portland is a hotbed of community activity and a beacon of 21st century city planning. Bicyclists and pedestrians fill the tree-lined streets, taking time from their leisurely stroll for a quick cup of Stumptown coffee or a bite to eat at one of the local food carts.
A big city that still retains the small town vibe, Portland is a place where happy hour-frequenting 20-somethings and families coexist peacefully. And smack dab in the middle of downtown Portland sits the Multnomah County Central Library, a pillar of this North Western community since 1913. Like Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), the Multnomah Library was a 2009 recipient of the National Medal Award, awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to the ten best libraries and museums around the country.
(Multnomah County Library, front entrance)
Behind the beautiful facade of the building lies nearly 17 miles (yes, MILES) of book shelving, which is a good thing because according to the Library’s website the average library card holder in Multnomah county checks out nearly 31 items per year, a national record.
Last week, StoryCorps Facilitator Sophie Simon-Ortiz and I traveled from foggy San Francisco to Sunny Portland for three days of recordings. Here are a few of the stories that came out of that quiet room in the back of the library.