It was quiet.  A sacred quiet. Tranquil. The spaces were large, with gentle air flow from muffled fans running somewhere behind the marble columns and arched ceilings.  I climbed the carpeted steps to the second floor of this sanctorium and made my way to a large open area designated for microfiche, business, and periodicals.


The huge windows on the north wall over-looked MacArthur Square, which is surrounded by the Milwaukee Police Department’s downtown station, and the imposing, Neo-Classic Revival County Court house (which architect Frank Lloyd Wright called “a million dollar rock pile”).  Red brick walks surrounded the plots of bright green grass in the square, though it was sleeting/snowing out.  Inside it was toasty, however, and I found an empty table with a chair facing the window.

There were twelve long shelves of current periodicals a few feet from my desk.  I roamed up and down the aisles.  It was like being in a candy store where everything is free, and I chose three I’d never read before to bring back to my table. There were computers available for public use, but I had my laptop with me.  The wi fi immediately put me in touch with the World Wide Web, so that was definitely one tick in the positive column for this writing venue.

In The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz, Toni Morrison talks about her writing place: “…well there’s a ritual.  This ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space that I can only call nonsecular… Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process.”  What delightful ways to describe the writing process!  I don’t know which I prefer, which best describes me.  Do I make contact?  Do I become the conduit?  Or do I simply engage in a mysterious process?  Maybe each one at different time; I will have to ponder that. And how would this particular writing place work for me?

In this hushed space, the occasional dropped book or scrape of chair was all the louder for the quiet surrounding it.  Those periodic noises were not distracting, however.  The library was a favorite of the homeless, too, on this un-spring-like day.  Security personnel were very tolerant of these sad people, fortunately, only asking that they not snore, and that they at least give the impression of reading, with a book propped in front of them.  Most do read, and it is interesting to see the wide range of taste distributed on the tables that have been vacated.


I spent an hour writing, and then I definitely needed that first cup of the morning.  It’s unfortunate that one couldn’t bring drinks into the library, but I certainly understood.  I walked the long hallway back to the grand staircase, passing the Art and Music Reference Room and the Humanities Reference Room (a repository of wonderful maps).  Down the stairway and out the main door to reach The Book Seller; used books for sale and a café that has decent coffee, and also serves food.


This is a very friendly space, with great prices on books and volunteers manning the cash register for any sales.  I’ve purchased many books for tt here, at twenty-five cents each.  I went into the back room to pick out a few paperbacks for a homebound friend and then secured my latte and a table.  The tables were the small round, garden style variety, just big enough for my cup and computer.  I spent another pleasant hour there, before heading out to my car.

On the negative side of this wonderful venue, parking downtown is at a premium, and the meter takes $1.50 per hour.  I also prefer to be able to drink my coffee while writing, so that includes the café, but excludes the library itself.

The free wi fi was definitely a plus, however, and the huge windows let in gorgeous light.  All in all, a great place to write, but it wouldn’t be my daily venue.  It was a lovely morning, though.

5 thoughts on “Shhhhhhhhhhh!!

  1. Kerry, This is priceless. The search has me fully engaged. Wish I could be THE ONE to find the perfect place to write – maybe the Art Center (has a cafe etc.) In any event, keep me informed. Such peace of mind as you seek for writing will also be good for your peace of mind. Love the story of searching! Lizzie

    Hi Eliz, as a matter of fact, yesterday morning was a writing visit at the Art Museum! It was wonderful – will write about it tomorrow. Thanks for keeping an eye on me!


  2. The Milwaukee Public Library is a wonderful space. I get side-tracked looking at the coffered ceilings as soon as I walk in the front door. The collection is first-rate, and the help is very knowledgeable. I’ve never tried to write there, but I’ve whiled away many a pleasant hour at the library. Too bad the budget cuts will negatively impact the services/hours of this wonderful spot.
    Hi Vineman – the hours have already been drastically cut!! Monday and Tuesday are the only evenings open – not fair!! Wisconsin stinks these days.


  3. Maybe THIS little bookstore is the one I should discover on my trip! I love these photos — the light and color is so rich. And how wonderful they welcome the homeless, so long as pretense is maintained!

    Most of all I liked the idea of the writing place. I’m not sure I’ve ever really looked for one. This is good… food for thought.

    Milwaukee does have a wonderful library system, and this central library is quite incredible. You must visit when you are in Milwaukee!


  4. Beautiful place. Reminds me of the big downtown library in Kansas City. As does your story about the homeless. City librarians in particular do have an interesting job when it comes to dealing with the homeless and with regular library patrons and I don’t envy them the task of having to decide on the right way to handle that. As a fellow human being you certainly want to have compassion and allow them to rest there, but I’ve also been around homeless individuals who smelled so terribly bad that you literally could not be near them without gagging and that of course is not something you want in a place where you want folks to come and browse and research, etc. I’m glad I’m on my end, working at a place where our role is to help folks rather than on a business end, which is what a library is, and having to decide when to remove compassion from the equation and think purely from a business standpoint.

    Hi Carl… the lack of compassion for the homeless mystifies me! On the one hand, I don’t want to be harassed, inside or outside the library. On the other hand, I surely have to count my blessings of a roof over my head, a myriad of opportunities, and good mental health!
    Thanks for stopping by!


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