Come with me to discover the treasures of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library in Downtown Dallas. (Nerd alert!)
The library building’s design -from 1982- mirrors that of the City Hall across the street. Both are modernist buildings. The central library bears the name of former Dallas mayor, philanthropist, and Texas Instrument co-founder J. Erik Jonsson.
Each of the eight stories is devoted to specific subjects, like History & Social Sciences (8th floor), Texas/Dallas History & Archives (7th floor), or, say Fine Arts (4th floor). Original paintings and prints, sculptures (Barbara Hepworth’s Square Form with Circles is my favourite), and even Navajo blankets adorn walls and halls throughout.
However, the treasures I want to show you are on the recently renovated 7th floor. It took me 3 goes to be able to visit that floor. I finally did it!
The first thing you see when you get off the elevator is a few display cabinets at both side of the entrance to the study area. The ones on the right contain a moving tribute to the Dallas Police Force and especially the officers slain in the line of duty on the attacks of July, 2016.
The other cabinets contain early editions of Little Women, Peter Rabbit, Huckleberry Finn, The Voyages of James Cook, or a 1772 French translation of Franklin’s experiments with electricity.
Not many locals know that the Central Library holds a copy of the Declaration of Independence on permanent display. This is one of 25 copies that were printed on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia for distribution. The Dallas copy is one of the few remaining in good condition and the only one extant in the western US. As is the way with most things, this copy was found purely by chance in a Philadelphia bookstore that closed in 1968.
One of the collections is devoted to the history of printing and of ideas. Antiquity is very much present today in the form of clay tablets from Sumer and Babylon or a papyrus fragment of the Book of the Dead circa 1000 BC.
An object that really caught my attention was a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible printed in Mainz in 1450/55. Straight from the father of modern printing! There’s also a leaf from the King James Bible printed in London in 1611. I didn’t know this but they printed a leaf at a time and bound them all together in 1613.
The pièce de résistance is, without a doubt, Shakespeare’s First Folio. This book, printed in 1623, comprises all Shakespeare’s comedies, histories and tragedies. Folio refers to the book size and it cost the staggering sum of £1. 250 copies of this first edition remain today and one of them is quite near me! The room reflects the Elizabethan style with oak paneling imported from England and a 17th century coffer and a pair of Restoration chairs.
Central Library tips
You can visit the Library seven days a week except major holidays.
Visit it any time; it’s usually very quiet, so you can see everything at your leisure.
Don’t miss the great views of the City Hall and beyond from the 8th floor.
Address: 1515 Young Street.