Robert Andrew Powell’s article, “In the Writer’s Room,” (Harpers, 11/12 pg. 7-75) reflects upon his experiences at the Seattle Central Library, one which causes him to wonder if public facilities like these, however grandly designed, aren’t destined to deteriorate into palaces of decay. For several months, Powell almost lived at the Scandiuzzi Writers’ Room, a place set aside within the grand façade where people with a book contract, or those who can “demonstrate a serious commitment,” are given access not only to the library’s resources, but also to a cubicle, a locker and free Wi-Fi. (Ibid pg. 70.)
The Seattle Library is considered by some to be one of the 7 Wonders of the modern world. (Ibid. pg. 71). My central library, by comparison, is a squat, cement construction with a handicap ramp among its bragging rights. Still my library is clean and filled with librarians who thrive on being helpful. I like my library and am even more disposed to it after reading Powell’s accounts of the Seattle library’s shell-shocked employees who spend their days dealing with the homeless and vomit in the elevators. (Ibid pg. 73) Add the presence of children left to run wild and lovers who pierce the silence with arguments, and it’s easy to see why security guards can do little against the onslaught of humanity.
That a library, so magnificently designed and at great cost to the taxpayers, would become a Mecca for the rootless should come as no surprise. Who wouldn’t choose an armchair in a palace as opposed to an unsheltered doorway or alley? But Powell’s essay raises fair questions: When does a library become a homeless shelter? How much eccentric behave will the public tolerate before losing their willingness to support libraries?
As much as I approve of the right of any citizen to come out of the rain and to read a book or magazine in a clean, well-lighted place, it’s tough to ignore the sad outcomes of good intentions.
(Seattle Central Library, Courtesy of http://www.architypereview.com