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Friday, August 24, 2012

Cathedral of the Mind in Seattle

 “A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life-raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead” Caitlin Moran

Libraries have been called the lifeblood of a community. I agree with that and I also believe that libraries reflect the community in which they are located. If a town doesn’t have a strong library, then it’s possibly a weak town. Likewise, I believe a city or town puts its money where its heart lies. Seattle definitely harbors a love of books because its beautiful downtown Central Library, just opened in 2004, is the most amazing library I have ever seen. And I make it a point to visit the library in every city I visit. I’ve toured libraries in Stockholm, Washington, DC, Montreal, Copenhagen, New York City and many more places over the years.

The Seattle Central Library is truly a national, even international, treasure. The library is forward-thinking and innovative for several reasons: the “books spiral” that displays the entire nonfiction collection gently ramping through four floors, the “living room” that stretches 50 feet high, the high tech book handling system that sends books back to their destination, the fifth floor “mixing chamber” with 145 computers available free to anyone with a library card, and much more.

I was eager to see this “hospital of the soul”  on a recent visit to Seattle. I started my tour with a stop at the large, but cozy, first floor Children’s Center where I could hear (but not see) reading hour in a small carpeted room with complete with the sounds of drums, animal noises and much laughter. The walls were covered with fanciful soft sculptures based on folk tales. Then I saw the 275-seat auditorium and watched a video about the book handling system. On the third floor, I visited the Starbucks Teen Center and the gift shop and relaxed for a while at the coffee bar. The escalator led me past the “Mixing Chamber” where I saw almost every one of the 145 computers being used in the darkened room. I then continued on the escalator through the book spiral. My jaw was hanging open in awe by the time I reached the tenth floor reading room and the highest public viewpoint of the library.
But this amazing library and many others are under siege due to budget cuts and poor planning on the part of government leaders. The entire Seattle library system will close Monday, August 27 and remain closed until September 4 due to budget cuts. The buildings will be closed. The book drops will be closed. The computers will not be accessible. No programs or events will happen. It sounds like a dystopian novel. But it’s happening at this country’s finest library system next week.

President Barack Obama said, "At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better.”  Let’s keep our libraries alive for the children.  Support your local library

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