Entering Bangkok’s Neilson Hays Library is like launching an adventure into time travel. Not a computer can be seen, card catalogs still hold sway, and books–no video cassettes or DVDs–wait behind glass doors in old-fashioned bookcases. Patrons remove their shoes before entering the building, and the smooth, highly polished wooden floor feels like satin beneath the soles of bare feet.
Make no mistake about it, this is a true library, not a museum, and nowhere is that more evident than in the children’s section. Shelves built over 140 years ago hold Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and Montana prodigy Christopher Paolini’s Eragon series. They are joined by modern classics–Hatchet and The Outsiders, Edward Eager’s Knight’s Castle, Arthur Ransome, Enid Blyton, and all of Mary Poppins, as well as the more venerable Don Quixote, Lorna Doone, and The Pathfinder. Among this august company is Mitali Perkins’ wonderful novel, Rickshaw Girl, the story of a Bangladeshi girl who transforms her talent for painting alpanas, the traditional patterns that adorn household walkways and thresholds, into a financial contribution for her family.
It’s a good thing that bean-bag chairs are near the picture books, because this is a corner that demands lingering, filled with gorgeous books from all over the English-speaking world. New Zealand’s wonderful Hairy MacLary lives here, as does Where the Giant Sleeps, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky–and a treasure from New York City’s Chinatown that deserves–and will soon receive–its own post.
Set in a serene little garden, with an adjacent cafe and outdoor tables, this library is an oasis of tranquility in a restless city. It’s not only a respite for Bangkok residents, the library also offers a welcome vacation from shopping and sightseeing for travelers, with a small charge for those who are not library members.