Seattle Library and Social Policy

P1010018 We were greeted by a gorgeous, sunny day in Seattle with a couple of free hours before the book event at Secky Fasciane’s house, so my colleague John Anderson from Vancouver ACORN indulged me and off we went to find the new Seattle Central Public Library.  I was eager to see the Rem Koolhaus building that was under construction last time I was downtown, and that I had read now defined the state-of-the-art in establishing a modern library and perhaps something about public space as well.  We were not disappointed.

We found it easily enough and even found parking which was a minor miracle.  The outside was interesting without making any particular impression, but once we walked inside we were in a whole new world that redefined the whole notion of a library.  The first impression I had was that there were people all over, walking, sitting, reading, napping, on computers, and in motion in a vast space.  Usually the first – and often only – impression of a library is that this is a place and space for books.  At the Seattle Central Library I knew the books had to be somewhere around and important, but they almost seemed incidental to the knowledge process.  Maybe not incidental, but let me just say, “people serving” rather than the other way around.

A green and yellow hued escalator takes you up to the 3rd floor and there’s a coffee shop, another hundred very comfortable places to sit and read or lay down a computer.  There are finally some short shelves of books on what’s moving, but seemingly just there to assist in passing the time nearby.  The 5th floor was packed with people and computers, all free with internet, more than 120 in a quick count.  There was a separate “job source” center with another half-dozen computers that targeted that interest and need.
I talked for a minute to a guy behind the desk.  He said there were over 200 computers in the building, and he confirmed that the chairs were always filled. Sometimes they had to give out numbers.  He was interested when I asked him if they would be open to a Citizen Wealth strategy where one of the computers would determine benefit eligibility for people.  They do taxes, so this excited him, so it’s worth some follow-up.
John and I stumbled into the magazine section, which was on an open plan and easy to access as well.  Out of curiosity I started looking to see if they had our Social Policy magazine and how they handled it.  Sure enough we found it, and raised the flap and could see the last issues.  Disappointingly they were displaying the last issue of 2008.  We walked over and talked to a staffer about why this was the case.  It was cool to identify myself as the publisher and editor trying to solve a problem, and to tell the truth I really did want to solve it, because I wanted Social Policy to be a part of this great library.  Who knows where the recent issue might be, but I promised to send the last one so that we were square here.  Later John and I found the found and displayed issues for the entire 31 year history of the magazine.  Impressive!
Walking out to make our way to Secky’s and see friends interested in Citizen Wealth and saying hi, John and I were both impressed with the whole set up.  I really wanted to imagine Citizen Wealth being on a shelf here and either checked out or read on a comfortable chair.  Wow!
One last note that would shock those of us in broke ass cities around the country.  Remember as we were touring the library along with thousands of other happy citizens, this was a beautiful Sunday.  The library was open and a sanctuary even on a gorgeous sunny day.  Cheers to Seattle!

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