Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)




 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish


April/May 2004

Vol VIII Issue IV

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This Library Will Kick Your Ass: A Refelction on the New SPL Central Library

By Tom Dobrowolsky
If you happened to wander around downtown this past spring break, you might have tracked past 4th and Madison and been treated to a building that can only be described as a glass-and-steel dollop of robot poop. This building stands on the location of the old Central Library; this building is the new Central Library. Had you been walking past it, you would have walked past the location of my current source of temporary employment.

Several weeks ago, I walked into the depressing Temporary Central, along with over 200 other hopefuls, in order to test for one of the 32 Temporary Move Page positions that SPL was opening. Apparently, I had flawlessly organized the 20 sets of word groups and the 20 sets of Dewey call numbers within the allotted 10 minutes, thus allowing me to join the ranks of the illustrious few to get a sneak peak at the new library before all y'all filthy punks. I was delighted to have solid proof that my brain still functions despite the ravages that graduate work, theory-discussing rancor, and clarity-replenishing alcoholism has wreaked upon my remaining gray matter.

So, last week we were led into the construction zone that is the new library. Our group was probably the only collection of non-union scabs on the entire site and it showed. With a noise and grace rivaling the passing of the Almighty’s gas, we thunderously adjusted shelving, shifted books, and thoughtfully reflected on the humility of shelf-reading SuDocs. Thankfully, on the second day the audio people were testing the sound system and our inept, unprofessional work style was masked by a whole lotta Zeppelin for over an hour. Now I've pontificated on the cult-like appeal of classic rock before, but it wasn't until that day that I realized its importance to our existence as a nation -- perhaps the greatest nation on Earth, ever. Without the widespread saturation of this genre, the construction industry would collapse. Nothing would ever get built in this country.

Whatever you may think about the actual look of the building, you cannot argue against the fact that it is the boldest design of any building around for blocks. Nestled amidst thoroughly unexciting glass-and-steel modernist cubes (curse your oily hide, Mies van der Rohe!), a boring courthouse, and somewhat timid construction of classic vintage, the new library screams for attention. It is a relatively diminutive extrovert set among buildings which introspectively hope to compensate in height for their sheer lack of creativity.

This is a fan-farging-tastic statement for a library... for the Central #!$&@#& Library... in the middle of downtown... to make. I will be extremely proud to grab my visiting friends by their scrawny hides, wave a fist in their face, and yell, "you see that!? That's our new $@##%*$ Public Library!" while pointing to the building and squeezing the life out of them.

Having said that, though, it's the interior spaces that really make me cry happy tears. From a huge, bright children’s area to aluminum flooring on the computing/reference floor to typefaces carved into maple flooring in the foreign languages collection, this is an absolutely gorgeous space. There is not a bland square inch to be found; even the bathrooms and elevators have color bordering on the obscene. (Wear your sunglasses.) And just to underscore its forward-looking hipness, I report that I've yet to find a seriffed font in the place. This new library slays Ikea and sleeps with its lovers.

But it's not all glitz, however. The "Mixing Chamber" promises to bring a new reference model into operation in which all resources can be brought to the patron in order to answer needs. There are conference rooms, training rooms, work rooms, and auditoriums scattered about. The spiraling layout of the upper floors will make the majority of the collection available to all patrons. The 10th floor reading room will offer spectacular views from the top while providing a welcoming place to empower oneself with knowledge. There will be precious open space to recreate, to breathe, to view, and to learn.

And there will be coffee.

I may not entirely agree with all of the architect's choices of materials but I wholeheartedly appreciate the gutsy directions taken by the architects and by SPL. My friends, this is not a time for libraries to sit idly by and twiddle their buns. And while I will be the first to admit that I personally have no intense desire to be a public librarian, this incredible space alone is enough to give me second, third, and seventh thoughts.

This new library represents an idea. More than just facilitating the practical vagaries of public librarianship, it physically embodies the noble vision of advancing the public trust and it illuminates the visible, powerful role that public institutions should play in our society. It combines the immense positive influence that librarians wield with a truly wondrous space. With its incredible design, the new Central Library speaks in architectural words the bold and fearsome words that the next generation of libraries and librarians will speak.

Do yourself a favor and spend lots of quality time at the new library; this space is a true inspiration.

All photos were taken by Tom Dobrowolsky.

The SPL Central Library Grand Opening Celebration is on Sunday, May 23 . Volunteers are needed to assist with the opening celebration and with a gala Tribute Celebration on Friday, May 21 from 7:00 pm to midnight. For more information, visit the Seattle Public Library Foundation website.

Photos of the new library:


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