I don’t know about you, but libraries will always have a special place in my heart. I remember my mother taking me to the town’s only library every week, and while she perused the art and mythology sections, I would ransack the children’s nook. If I didn’t find anything interesting there, I’d move on to more adult genres, like mysteries and spy novels. When I got older, I devoured the biography section along with whatever caught my fancy, from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius to photojournalism to the French Revolution. Luckily, my mother spent countless hours there, so I was able to feed my overactive imagination without worrying about running out of time.
I haven’t been back in a long while, and I’m sure it’s not nearly as big a building as I remember. I don’t even know if the structure is still there. Several levels opened to the lobby, all boasting heavily polished floors and creaky wooden shelves, groaning under the weight of so many hard-bound tomes, giving it an old world, floor-to-ceiling bookstore feel. Early on I discovered an ancient circular stairwell behind the stacks and when I grew tired of searching for something new, I’d hide there, alone with the subject du jour, lost in another world of my choosing.
This past weekend my cousin Fieke, visiting from the Netherlands, suggested we visit the Seattle Public Library. She works as a photographer in Eindhoven and was acquainted with the photographer who assisted the architect, also from the Netherlands. I’d been to SPL a couple of times before, but hadn’t been able to take the time to really discover the place. If you haven’t had the chance to visit, put it on the list for whenever you’re in Seattle. It’s an amazing, mind-bending building dedicated to all things literature.
The structure is a honeycomb of concrete, gleaming steel, and glass. The natural light streaming in through the walls is impressive on a sunny day–and it’s a fabulous place to be in the middle of winter when the skies are the same steel-gray as the supports. Each floor is its own world and conveys a different feeling, from future-shock orderliness to saturated, mind-warping tomato reds and neon yellows. Nothing here is understated. Every nook and cranny demands that you pay attention.
That Seattle voters chose to support the revitalization of the library system in such large numbers is a telling regional character trait. Folks who live in the Pacific Northwest, from Vancouver, BC to Portland, Oregon, are known as voracious readers. (Yes, we’re heavy caffeine abusers and like our wines and microbrews, but when it’s dull gray and bone-chilling wet outside, curling up with a good book, be it on our Kindle, Nook, iPad, or the printed page, is one of this area’s favorite pastimes.) The libraries in western Washington embraced eBooks early, and several offer a large selection of audio books for downloading. One of the benefits of living in a tech-heavy area (Amazon and Microsoft are based here, among several other tech organizations) is that early adopters drive innovation and concepts are introduced here long before other areas of the country.
Below are a few more of the photos I took of the interior. Do you have a library story? I’d love to hear it🙂