My husband, Paul, and I took a day trip to Boston recently. I wanted to visit the main branch of the public library at Copley Square. I’d never really explored the grand old building, and I had just learned about the murals the artist John Singer Sargent had painted on one of its halls. We wanted to see them.

While most people don’t put libraries on their vacation agendas, I’m something of a library nut. I’ve been a public library patron since I was 4 years old and grew up to work as a school librarian. I’m never so happy as when I am surrounded by books.

We saw the fabulous murals and visited the exquisite reading room, with its vaulted ceiling and long polished tables, each lit softly by its own lamps. The library has two cafes and a restaurant, so we grabbed some sandwiches and brought them out to the courtyard.

It was a rainy day, but an arcade that ran along three sides of the space provided shelter. People were eating, drinking coffee, reading, working on laptops and simply socializing. The courtyard looked as though it could be part of one of the famed mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. With the 1895 granite library walls enclosing us and a fountain tinkling in the middle of the courtyard, we might have thought we were back in Sargent’s time — were it not for the skyscrapers visible beyond the library roof.

As I looked around, I said to Paul, “When people question the value of libraries in the 21st century, they need to see this.”

Libraries are all about people. They provide access to books, films, computers and Wi-Fi, of course; but a huge part of their mission is to be community centers, a place where people can learn and grow together.

A few days after our visit, my words echoed in my mind as I visited the new Lithgow Public Library in Augusta for the first time. I was excited to see what the interior looked like, but as I looked around, I was equally impressed with the people I saw.

There was an excellent turnout for this open house. I saw former Lithgow staffers, who returned as if it were Old Home Day. I saw current and former students. There were families with young children whom I’m acquainted with through my work. I spotted fellow patrons, old friends. Yes, the community was there.

Paul and I returned on Monday, which was the official opening day. Again, I saw several friends and colleagues. My favorite encounter happened when a former student came down the staircase to the second floor and spotted me.

“Well, look who’s here,” he exclaimed.

This young man never visited the library when he was in middle school. Then one day his class came into the small space because they had to leave their own room for some reason. There weren’t enough chairs, so this student found himself leaning against the manga section.

Japanese graphic novels are popular with teens (and tweens). The student picked one up and starting reading. He was hooked.

At the start of his sophomore year in high school, the middle school was consolidated with the grades 9-12 school. So movers shifted the middle-school collection into the new library space.

The high school library had had no manga before the consolidation. So when my young friend spotted me the first day of that new school year, his eyes lit up. “Did you bring the manga?” he asked.

I had.

He came to the library nearly every day for the rest of his high school career, to exchange his books. I would see him reading in the cafeteria. Sometimes his teachers had to tell him he couldn’t take out any more books because he had to catch up on his work.

According to Ranganathan’s Laws of Library Science, “every reader his book.” My student had discovered the joy of reading because he had found his book. I was glad to see him exploring the library.

The new Lithgow is a masterful melding of the old and the new. The first floor of the original 1896 building has been lovingly restored. There are many more computers, and outlets to plug in laptops or recharge phones. The children’s room is a large, bright space that will be a perfect home for the wonderful programming that the Lithgow staff provides.

Yes, I’m a fan. Here’s another of Ranganathan’s laws: “The library is a growing organism.”

We in Augusta finally planted the seed for a new library and have been richly rewarded. Let the harvesting begin.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected]

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