Providence Public Library
150 Empire St.
Providence, Rhode Island
The library is a private non-profit corporation with more than 1 million articles. These range from the latest bestsellers on "Playaway" - a one-book listening device - to baked clay cuneiform tablets more than 2,000 years old. It houses one of the most extensive whaling collections in the country (the Nicholson collection) as well as some very interesting artifacts including scrimshaw that would make my mom's eyes light up.
It's the largest library in the city, with more resources than any of the other branches. Bear and I go there occasionally, although parking is often a hassle. The original part of the building was built in 1894 (I think it's in the Empire style), and the new section added on in 1953. The severe square gray cement of the new section reminds me of a Soviet housing block, and is very mismatched to the original architecture. Even more strangely, the floors don't match up inside. This is probably due to the height of the ceiling in the original part of the library.
I've been having some trouble finding information on the history of the library itself. Based on some photos in its Flickr account, the library was founded in 1876, but they they celebrated their centennial in 1978. This despite the carving on the building reading 1894. Confusing.
The inside of the library has a lot of quirks as well. The main section is more or less consistent with its outside architecture, and was carefully restored in the 70s.
However the new addition doesn't precisely line up with the original building, so there are half-stairs and places where you have to take an elevator, then go down a hallway to a different elevator to get where you're going. It can be a little confusing until you get the hang of it.
The third floor of the original building houses offices and meeting rooms, and the Special Collections. There's also a special printing room with an antique press. Special collections is housed in what was originally the children's section, and the mural is still visible along the top of the wall.
It's definitely worth a visit, especially if you catch them when these rooms are open.