The Courtyard at Boston Public Library's Central branch in Copley Square

The Courtyard at Boston Public Library's Central branch in Copley Square is a quiet place to enjoy an Italian-style plaza in the heart of the city. (Rosalyn Impink photo)

With a seemingly never-ending parade of books, movies, and special events and programs to check out at our local libraries here in the Merrimack Valley, it’s hard to imagine that you’d ever need to leave town to access unlimited knowledge and resources. However, if you find yourself hankering for a good read while in the big city, the Boston Public Library is a must-try for literature lovers, amateur historians, and architecture fiends alike.

The Boston Public Li­bra­ry system was first established in 1848 and, with over 24 million items, is the third-largest public library system in the Uni­ted States behind the Library of Congress and New York Public Library. It was the first free mu­nicipal library in the coun­try, the first public library to lend books, and the first library to have a space dedicated to children.

There are 24 branch li­braries serving every neighborhood in the city, but the crown jewel is the Central Library in Copley Square.

Located on Boylston Street, the Central Libra­ry is a marvel of art and architecture. Indeed, in pre-pandemic times, the library offered tours of the space; today, you can find an online or printed booklet to take your own self-guided tour.

Make sure to seek out Staircase Hall, decked in Siena marble, to greet two lions carved by legendary sculptor Louis St. Gau­dens in the late 1800s.

Other artistic treasures include paintings by the European-American paint­er John Singer Sargent and French muralist Pi­erre Puvis de Chavannes.

You may recognize the Reading Room of Bates Hall for its long wooden tables, warm lighting, and iconic green reading lights. This mecca for students, researchers, and readers alike boasts a 50-foot barrel vault ceiling and plenty of historic furniture.

Not to be missed is the library’s courtyard, de­signed to replicate a Ro­man plaza in Italy. Es­cape the hustle and bustle of Boylston Street as you slip into this quiet oasis, complete with green space, white marble walls, patio furniture, and a central fountain.

A favorite spot for weddings and concerts, the everyday visitor can enjoy traditional Renaissance design without ever leaving the state.

If all this exploring makes you hungry, the elegant Map Room Tea Lounge and Courtyard Tea Room offer traditional tea services and tea-infused cocktails (book ahead for a 90-minute sitting), while the Newsfeed Cafe is a prime spot to pick up a gourmet sandwich or sal­ad.

Nearby is the first-floor WGBH studio, a satellite of the station’s Brighton headquarters. Though the pandemic has forced chan­ges to the recording pro­cess, the space is beginning to come back to life. Visit on a weekday, and you might catch a glimpse of Jim Braude and Mar­gery Eagan recording a segment of “Boston Public Radio” with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, or check out wgbh.org for a full list of upcoming programs.

Some bookworms just can’t help browsing, but rest assured — you won’t be denied the opportunity just because you live out of town. Any Massachu­setts resident can register for a BPL card online, or go to any branch location to receive a permanent card.

Find more information at www.bpl.org/ecard/ to sign up, and check out www.bpl.org for COVID-19 updates to plan your visit today!

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