I’ve been travelling and working more than I’ve been surfing and sharing lately. That will change this Summer, but for now it’s the reality of what seems to be The Conference Season. Here are some nifty links that people have sent me, and ones that I have noticed over the past few weeks. Sort of a random grab bag.
The Stranger is a local indie paper in Seattle that has never been particularly fond of Seattle’s new library. I found their latest article “Killer Library” subtitled “The New Central Library Offers Civic Validation, a Huge Collection of Material, and a Staggering Number of Startling New Ways to Die” totally hilarious. It’s a mix of genuine design flaws (up escalator only? really?) with just quirky architectural decision (of course people call that little platform over the huge atrium area Lover’s Leap, have you lived through a Seattle winter?). I like how their platonic library patron is exactly my age. update: amusingly, everything old is new again and this article is from a while ago. I still enjoy it. [thanks megan]
I was in Seattle over the weekend. Sorry I didn’t call you. I went to a wedding and then got a terrible cold and spent the last day and a half on my friend’s couch reading comic books until flying home on a red eye the day before yesterday. I am recovered now, mostly. The one thing on my to do list was to see the new library. When I left Seattle four years ago, it was just a hole in the ground and a loose frame but not yet open to the public. I had really liked the old library — though understood why it needed updating — and I even liked the temporary library. I can’t say the same for the new library.
Now, there are many great things about the new library. I connected to the wifi/internet no problem. All the people I asked for advice and directions were super friendly and helpful. I liked having the option to get a cup of coffee and have a dozen interesting places to hang out with it. The place is fun to look at and explore. I enjoyed getting to pore through bound volumes of old periodicals that were right there on the shelves. The online catalog has finally improved to the point where it’s easy to use and makes a fair amount of sense; at SPL in particular that was not always true.
However, I saw a real disconnect beween the lovely outside and grand entry spaces to the library, plus a few other very design-y areas, and the rest of the building. Materials were hard to find. VERY hard to find. Signage was abysmal, often just laserprinted pieces of paper, sometimes laminated and sometimes not. Doors to areas that may have been public were forbidding and unwelcoming. There weren’t enough elevators. There weren’t enough bathrooms. There wasn’t a comfortable place to sit in the entire building. There were lots of “dead spaces” that, because of architecture, couldn’t really be used for anything and they were collecting dust. The lighting was bad. Stack areas were dim and narrow. The teen area seemed like an afterthought. Bizarre display areas with a table and some books on it were in the middle of vast open areas. Most of the place felt like it was too big and then the stacks felt too crowded and I had to climb around people working to find things. Shelvers shut down the entire “spiral” concept with booktrucks. The writer’s area in this library is a shadow of the glorious writers room in the old downtown building where I had a desk briefly.
Did I think it was going to be different? Maybe a little. I left Seattle specifically because its idea of progress and mine were fundamentally at odds and I didn’t enjoy the destabilizing effect of a city always under construction and didn’t get enough from the things that were eventually constructed. This library looks like it was built for a bookless future where we get all of our information from the internet and the digital realm. For now, we’ll just keep the books on hand because people will bitch if they don’t get to read them, but they’re no longer the reason for the library, and they’re no longer honored and appreciated as the things we love and build libraries to house.
My small photoset of the Seattle Public Library is here.
update: I was pointed to a PUBLIB posting by a librarian who was at SPL quite recently who makes many of the same points that I do in different ways.
Forgot to mention, I’m not going to Midwinter which by my estimations (and Flickr photostream) is already in progress. This is the first ALA in a long time where I haven’t had a professional responsibility to be there and so even though Seattle is the city of my dreams, I’m staying home and working with my group of librarians instead. None of them are going to ALA either. After a crazying but fun year of travel last year I decided that staying home for a few months was a little higher on my priority list than getting to Midwinter. I’ll be at Annual where I’ll be on a panel with Eric Alterman, talking about blogs. Hope to see you there, if not before!