I am a writer because of libraries, because of their cool, dark recesses during hot and smoggy Pasadena summers, when I would hole up between the stacks and read and read and read until I had punched every hole in my summer-challenge library card and gone onto the next. I am a writer because of the refuge of the library during my awkward adolescence, because of the way the books I found by accident taught me about times and places I had never thought of. I am a writer because of wood floors, and twelve-foot-tall windows that let the light fall down onto books that are sweetly musty and eager to be read. I am a writer because of inter-library loan, which sent hundreds of books to my tiny Wallingford branch while I was researching 500 Great Books by Women. I am a writer because of the quick-information line, which answered all my questions in a way far more satisfying than Google will ever be, because the answers were framed in conversations, and sometimes included questions inside themselves. Which, of course, would lead me back to the library itself. Because in the end, libraries remind us that reading is a communal activity, a conversation between writer and reader, reader and reader, page and eyes.
I’ve traveled to over 50 countries and have lived in several of them. What I miss most about the US while abroad (aside from friends and family) is our breathtaking national parks and our vastly accessible public library system. I love the downtown Seattle public library, not just because of its distinctive architecture, but because it is one of the most diverse places in the city. Homeless men are reading their email and applying for jobs, veiled Somali women are checking out books on computer literacy and English as a second language, children of all colors are mesmerized by the puppet stage and making up their own story hour, writers are congregating in their special rooms, introverts are finding solace, and a business man is sipping a latte on his lunch break, nose stuck in a novel. Each of the neighborhood libraries in Seattle has its own personality, reflective of the community it serves, much like the local farmers’ markets. A society can be judged not only by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, but also by the quality, quantity, and accessibility of its public institutions. The library is one of our most functional, important, beloved public places. It is democracy in action and a stepping stone to a better world. Please vote yes on Proposition 1.
On August 7, Seattle Proposition 1 will be on the primary ballot. The seven-year, $123-million levy addresses four essential priorities: keeping libraries open, adding more books and materials, improving computer and online services, and maintaining buildings. Learn more about the levy and how public libraries help Seattle patrons like author Eileen Gunn.
I grew up in a town that had no bookstore, just a wire rack of cheap paperbacks at the local newsdealer. A block from that store was the public library, built in 1874 with donated money. It was a small wooden building with high, rounded Queen Anne windows on the second floor, and it was filled with fascinating books — the latest best-sellers, newly published science-fiction and fantasy, romance, historicals, everything I couldn’t buy at the store.
I sampled it all: history, science, archeology, humor, art, and, of course, sexy novels. I discovered Robert Heinlein’s juveniles and read my way through the entire adult SF section. Left alone to roam the shelves, I formed a very personal relationship with books new and old. I once took out a volume — the speeches of Wendell Willkie, if I recall correctly — simply because nobody else ever had: I felt sorry for it.
That was fifty years ago. The world is very different now, but public libraries like the SPL, with open stacks that encourage browsing and discovery, and with enticing branch libraries that put books out in the neighborhoods, where kids and passersby can drop in, still bring the world to the people, and people to the world.
The active presence of the Seattle Public Library, its branches open and accessible to the public, not shuttered and dark most of the time, is essential to the quality of life of Seattle. For the well-being of writers and researchers and people to don’t have easy Internet access, for the enrichment of the children who will be the future of this city and this country, vote on August 7 to support, maintain, and improve the our libraries. Keep the libraries open!
Library supporters packed City Council Chambers on April 3 and presented a diverse and articulate case for placing the Library Levy before voters in August. City Council will likely decide the issue at its April 9 meeting. Councilmember Tim Burgess suggested the decision would be easy and told the large audience, “You brought the library into Council Chambers by talking about its impact on your lives. It’s had an impact on me.”
The audience, ranging from grade school age to ninety, testified for nearly 1 1/2 hours on a wide spectrum of ways the library is relevant to their lives and to our city. “The library is the #1 resource in the city for addressing the Digital Divide…[it is] a window for attaining employment, job training, getting a GED, and even getting your taxes done,” explained businessman and realtor, Dr Gary Kunis. Expressing his “100% support” Dr. Charlie Walker 3rd, said, “Victory of education is in the classroom as well as the library.” School teacher/librarian Craig Seasholes further expanded the idea pointing out that libraries and schools work closely together to educate and that large numbers of public school students spend their afterschool hours in public libraries. He added that the library’s summer reading program ensures that students experience no loss in reading ability over the summer break.
Several people explained how the library empowers people with low vision through LEAP (Library Equal Access Programs) at Central Library. Becky Bell said large text and audio speech technology has “enabled me to reach out to my blind community and my community in general.” Jean Jacobs called the library her, “home away from home.” Janice Hufty credited LEAP with helping her to start a Muslim resource center and launch the Warm For Winter Foundation. Camille Jassny, board member of Vision Loss Connections, talked about the importance the Low Vision library book group holds in her life.
Many aspects of library services were cited as enhancements in the lives of people testifying. Paul Michaelson was impressed by library meeting rooms that “affords a unique opportunity for people to come together.” Katherine Beck attended as representative of five generations of library users and talked about using the library for literary research. Paula Becker spoke enthusiastically about the historic collections in The Seattle Room and their excellent digitized offerings.
Two cautionary testimonies from representatives of the City Neighborhood Council (an umbrella group of district councils) and the Seattle Community Council Federation urged levy authors to establish a levy oversight council to secure voter trust. They also recommended a levy amendment which commits City Council to maintaining existing levels of general fund support for the library if and when the levy passes and commits the Library Board to act on the public’s wish to restore library hours. The levy promises to do four things: restore library hours, enhance books and services, improve computer and online services, and maintain the buildings.
Thank you to those of you who attended the hearing. If you didn’t attend, enjoy the April 3 hearing recorded at Seattle Channel and consider joining Friends of The Seattle Public Library in future events for library support.
The Friends of the Seattle Public Library recently received a letter from one of our supporters, Ani J. The letter reads:
” Dear Library,
I want to share my allowance money so you can stay open. I am 6 years old. Here is $11. (as dictated to mom, aka scribe)”
Thank you Ani! Your contribution means so much to us. We are happy that you use and love The Library.
If you are reading this and also want to help support The Seattle Public Library, an anonymous donor has pledged $500,000 to support The Seattle Public Library if the citizens of Seattle can raise a matching amount. To donate, go to the Seattle Public Library Foundation website. Let’s make a million dollars for The Library!
Another way you can help is to attend City Council budget hearings and voice your support for The Library. Seattle is facing huge budget cuts again this year. Come and let the Council know how valuable libraries are to our community. For a schedule of budget hearings go the City Council’s website.
A patron from the Columbia Branch shares a story from her recent visit:
“I was checking out books at the Columbia City branch a few months ago, shortly after I’d learned the branch had reduced its hours…as I checked out, a father with two boys came up to the counter to ask the librarian a question.”
The brothers were talking and one said to the other, ‘Let’s ask Dad if we can come back here tomorrow.’ The older brother said, ‘This place is SO much fun!’
The younger boy said ‘OK,’ and they started tugging on their dad’s shirt. ‘Dad, Dad, can we come back here tomorrow?’ Finally the dad responded, ‘Yes, sure.’
“My heart sank because I knew that the branch was now going to be closed on Sunday, the next day. The enthusiasm the boys had for being in the Library was contagious and impressive. I wished I had the power to open the doors for them the next day.”
One of our board members, Stephanie Anderson, writes a column for her kids’ school newsletter, “Beaver Notes” from Loyal Heights Elementry. This time she wrote about volunteering with her kids at our Book Sale. The kids’ names have been changed to protect their identity.
Last weekend I brought seven kids to work at the semi-annual Friends of the Library Book Sale at Magnuson Park. Scooter and Cupcake have worked every sale since they were little. They like putting on the Friends’ green volunteer vests, choosing the two free books they earn for volunteering, and making forts of the empty boxes they collect. Mostly they like the volunteer lounge, full of Top Pot donuts and other treats. A few years ago I began inviting their friends, and put them all to work. This time was different, though: I had four seventh grade boys – I wasn’t too worried about that – but I also had three third graders and I was scheduled to cashier in the CD/DVD section in a building across the street from where they would be.
As we donned our vests and name tags, I told Cupcake and her friends that, no matter what, they needed to stay together and check in with me. They nodded solemnly while I spoke but I could tell they were thinking only of the Top Pot donuts arrayed invitingly before them.
The CD/DVD section was hopping. I couldn’t leave for over an hour. When the crowd finally thinned, I raced over to the main building. Cupcake and one friend were busily straightening books in the children’s section and the other friend, whistling, was toting a stack of empty boxes to the back room. My heart swelled with pride.
The next time I checked I found them kicked back in the volunteer lounge popping Top Pot donuts in their mouths. I shooed them back to work and checked on the older boys. In their bright yellow Whitman Ultimate Frisbee jerseys they were easy to spot, fanned out across hundreds of thousands of books, cheerfully carrying empty boxes on their heads to the back room where they were building elaborate interconnected box forts reaching almost to the ceiling. Raised on Legos, every one of them.
On my next break I browsed the CDs. Nothing really grabbed me and I was about to stop looking when I saw it: Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Volumes I and II. As I perused the song list I was a young girl again hearing Just the Way You Are for the very first time. I realized with a start that I had grown up with Billy Joel – from Piano Man when I was Cupcake’s age, to You’re Only Human when I was old enough to drink. I’d hang out on my bed and daydream of how my life would be when I was a grown up; I was impatient for something – anything – to happen to me because it seemed nothing ever did. I thought about Cupcake voicing similar sentiments: “I don’t want to shower!” “I wish I could drive.” “Nothing exciting’s happening.”
Clutching my CD I wanted to tell my nine year old daughter, while you are impatiently waiting for something to happen, imperceptible things are happening to you every day, shaping who you are – you just don’t realize it; and don’t wish it away.
Just then Cupcake and her two friends came tearing into the building, hopping around and demanding lunch money. “Don’t come with us,” Cupcake said sternly. “We’re going to buy lunch ourselves and I’ll bring you back the change.” And just like that they were gone. Watching Cupcake walk away I detected a swagger in her step; the Queen of the Book Sale.