Q: In the background of your story time photos, I always see amazing stuff like a cross section of a house, a big wall of book, and a giant tree??? What is that? Can you give us a tour?
Sure! That fantastical landscape you’re seeing behind Ian and his box dog is Bookscape, the Cotsen Children’s Library’s public gallery. You might be surprised to learn that while Cotsen is technically a library, the “library” part of it contains our rare books and special collections. We don’t, for example, have circulating copies of books like public libraries. We do, however, have reading copies of books available in the Bookscape gallery. And like our programming, Bookscape is open to the public and free of charge. Ready for a tour?
The Cotsen Library opened its doors in 1997. Back then, its public gallery looked a little different. But in 2002, architect James Bradberry, artist Judson Beaumont, and Cotsen staff collaborated to create the now-iconic Bookscape.You enter Bookscape through a topiary garden. In the below image, you can see that garden from another angle. The giant glass wall of books you see rising in the background is a 3-story rare books vault. And that’s only about 1/5 of our collection!
I love the inlay on the floor of the garden. Not only is it beautiful, it also made a great fire pit for a camping story time (you can just see it underneath all the construction paper fire and cotton ball marshmallows).
Past the garden, you find yourself in a little house. Stretched across one side of the house is a fireplace.
See the black railing on the top of the house? That marks the perimeter of a little hidden room. You climb the bookshelf stairs on the left and unlock a trap door to gain access to the room. We currently use it for office storage. But sometimes, I climb up there to launch UFO or two.
Above the house’s fireplace is a clock. A closer look reveals that it tells Princeton, Cinderella,13 Clock, and Connecticut Yankee time.
The bookshelves that flank the fireplace are stocked with wooden books. Many of them have tongue-in-cheek titles, courtesy of the Cotsen staff.
Here are just a few titles:
The Feline in the Fedora
Fly Through Your O.W.L.S by H. Granger
Just So-So Stories
Dare to Be Different by U. Duckling
Richard’s Scariest Word Book Ever
From the Mixed Up Files of Enron
Ramona Quimby, Age Eighty
Effective Communication by Amelia Bedelia
Goldilocks: My Story
Never-Never Land on Pennies a Day
The Very Hungry Multinational Conglomerate
To the left of the fireplace is a cozy study booth. Often, this is where I’ll find Princeton University students reading, writing, and working on their laptops.
Opposite the fireplace is the “study.” Here you’ll find bookshelves and big, squashy leather coaches. This is also the chapter book section of the gallery.
Over the years, I’ve used the bookshelves for hiding things during scavenger hunts, or for holding items like this orange mailbox during a mailman story time.
Not too far from the house is our wooden puppet theater. I can’t tell you how much use this gets! The theater has a puppet storage bin built into the back (I buy animal and insect puppets from Folkmanis), and an extra-deep stage so puppeteers can comfortably rest their elbows during performances. The velvet curtains slide back and forth on a rod. Best of all, our puppets are multilingual! I’ve heard performances in English, French, German, Japanese, Hebrew, Italian…
Outside the house, in the back of the gallery, is our bridge, wishing well, and bonsai tree.
The bridge is prime toddler territory. They love to test out their walking skills on its gentle slope.
But the bridge also comes in handy when you need a train tunnel during story time!
The wishing well is next to the bridge…
There’s an entrance to the well on the right – it’s shaped like a jagged crack. Look closely in the above photo and you’ll see the water “escaping” from the right side of well and flowing under the bridge. It ends in this cute little koi pond.
We’ve certainly done a lot of fishing and splashing in the pond at story time. It’s also a popular location for Vikings and Pirates to search for coins!
In the back right-hand corner of the gallery is our giant bonsai tree.
The tree has two floors. The ground floor can comfortably fit a family or a group of kids. There are 3 alcoves for picture book storage, and big puffy floor pillows.
When our To Be Continued chapter book program is in session, I bring out even more floor pillows and we spread out!
Curling along the back of the tree is a staircase that leads to a small upstairs room and another pair of comfortable pillows.
Both tree rooms have graffiti carved into the walls by literary characters. Here’s my favorite:
The back left-hand corner of Bookscape isn’t the most glamorous area of our gallery, but it’s certainly the place closet to my heart. It’s our program area.
This is where the magic and the mess happens.
There are lots of other little touches and surprises in our gallery, but I won’t reveal them all. You’ve got to come and discover them for yourself! Ten years ago, when I was interviewing for my job at Cotsen, I walked into the gallery and was overwhelmed with emotion. Yes, I had seen pictures of Bookscape online, but they didn’t prepare me for what it felt like to be fully immersed in the gallery. I silently swore that if I got the job, I would do my best to create programs that would match the love, care, and consideration that went into designing this amazing space for kids.
If you’d like to see a little video the University made about our space, and meet some of the students who work here, you’ll find it here!