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!