February 8, 2003,
marked the one-year anniversary of the opening ceremony of last year's
Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Residents celebrated with a
parade, a fireworks display, and the grand opening of their new central
"For $65 million,
it better be something," I heard one resident mumble as I walked
towards the entrance. Sixty-eight percent of city residents passed an
$84 million bond in 1998 to pay for the new 240,000 square foot library.
I don't live here, but am a frequent enough visitor that I have watched
with anticipation as the new library has taken shape over the past couple
of years. I think before I've even walked in that it is "something."
As I enter the
front door I find myself in the Urban Room, shuffling around with some
of the 16,000 other people who visited the library on opening day. The
Urban Room spans the length of the building with walls of glass pouring
in natural light at both ends as well as from the glass ceiling five
stories above me. I've come to see the library but my attention is diverted
for the time being to a flower shop to my left. Several retailers are
set up in shops along one side of the Urban Room, including a newsstand,
the Library Friends' store, and Night Flight Comics.
Eventually I make
it to the book side of the building. There are five floors and a rooftop
terrace ,and so I decide to start in the basement and work my way up.
The children's library is first. I've read about new specially designed
reading nooks-just the kind of secret space I would have loved to have
been able to read in when I was a kid. I'm a little disappointed though.
One room, called Grandma's Attic, is constructed of unfinished pine-splinters
just waiting to happen-and the other is called the Ice Cave, and is
constructed of cold, hard, angular plastic. I can see the goose eggs
on little foreheads now. I was expecting pillows, I guess.
But there are lots
of other architectural details throughout the building that work. The
east side of the library is constructed largely of glass, allowing for
breathtaking views of the Wasatch Front from every floor. It's also
very, very warm. With wind chills outside dropping the temperature to
around 12 degrees, I decide to hang out by the windows for a while to
thaw out, and so I grab a copy of Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner
off a nearby shelf and have a seat.
If I were more
cosmopolitan, I could have opted to read on the west side of the building
on a comfy couch by the fire with city views. Library designers took
a bit of a cue from Barnes & Noble, putting fireside reading lounges
on every floor. And, even though this is Utah, a coffee kiosk near the
circulation desk will soon be jerking java (it wasn't open yet when
I was there). Many residents are already taking advantage of the more
than 80,000 new additions to the library's collection; it looks like
lines at the circulation desk are at least an hour long.
One thing I notice
while basking in the Salt Lake sunshine is that this library is loud.
It was designed with the northern Utah landscape in mind (think rocks
and sagebrush), as well as durability. Everything is steel, slate, glass.
Voices and footsteps echo everywhere, but I imagine that after a week
or so, things will calm down and there won't be thousands of people
milling around all the time. Besides, the library is meant to be a place
where people can make some noise.
The Salt Lake Public
Library takes their mission statement seriously to be "a dynamic
civic resource that provides free access to information, materials,
and services to all members of the community to stimulate ideas, advance
knowledge, and enhance the quality of life." A librarian has given
me a button to wear: it's fluorescent green with "SHH!" in
black letters with a slash through them. "It means no shh,"
she explains. The library is meant to be a place where conversations
start, where they develop, not a place where tight-lipped women with
glasses and gray hair (wrapped in a bun of course) "shh" people.
Looking for some
peace and quiet, I take to the roof. Right now, in the middle of winter,
there are only a few bare trees up here, but I can image what it will
look like in the spring. Below me are a fountain, a courtyard, and an
amphitheater. This will be a lovely place for a concert next summer.
I walk along the outside crescent wall that winds down to that courtyard.
If I lived here, I'd consider my property tax increase well spent.
For pictures of
the new Salt Lake City Library and other information about it, visit