Seattle Library

Dear Liza,

Henry Moore statue across the street from the Seattle Library

Since your Great Grandma Billie was both a school and public librarian, I was practically raised in libraries. As a teacher, I spent thirty more years loving these places dedicated to protecting and sharing books.

Amazing interior space!

And in Seattle, we found revolutionary architecture combined with a love of books and community service.

Opening in 2004, this 11-story steel and glass building was designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus. Nothing in it seems to be at right angles, which made Grandpa Nelson uncomfortable for a while. There is also a three story overlook that lets you appreciate the amazing architecture ( and give you the willies!).

View straight down from the fourth floor overlook

The library uses elevators, escalators and stairs to help folks get around, but also something new to me, the “Books Spiral.” Starting on the ninth floor, books are shelved according to the Dewey Decimal System (most libraries use it), but instead of dividing the sections up by floors, you walk down (or up) the spiral on gently sloping ramps. The floors are flat and level, and the ramps go around the outside walls.

walking down the Book Spiral

This is great for browsers like me, who hate stairs! I wandered by books on cartoons (I pulled out a Doonesbury and read a few), biographies, plays, and old sheet music, enjoying the books like they were art in a gallery. It was comfortable, fun, and very friendly.

Just browsing!

Adding to the friendly feeling was the cafe downstairs, with lots of light, sunny seating. A security guard explained that his loved his job because he worked in a safe, welcoming community space dedicated to people and learning.

Welcoming, friendly people and spaces

Homeless people, especially in cold, wet weather, will spend a lot of time in public libraries. Instead of chasing them away, Seattle’s library has certain areas where they are welcomed, so they can rest, use the bathrooms, and stay warm. It is working well so far, said the guard.

Map of Seattle in 1890. The Duwamish River is the wiggly line bottom center

On the level with maps, I found an amazing experience that I didn’t take a single picture of, because it all happened in Virtual Space. With a VR headset on, I found myself in a canoe on the Duwamish River, paddling, gathering berries, cooking salmon, and picking up trash. It reminded me of camping trips with your Great Grandpa Lowell, who loved and respected the forests we visited.

The experience also helped teach me the history of this area. Seattle was founded by white people on the banks of Puget Sound, along the Duwamish River. These folks weren’t the first people here, though.

Wonderfully tactile world map

Before they came, the river was the center of life for the Duwamish people, who used the river for all their needs: food, transportation, clothing, and cleaning. As white people moved in, they wanted to use the river for different things, and have straightened, deepened, and polluted the river so that it isn’t good for anything but moving big ships through.

We all enjoyed our hour or so in the library, but the rest of the city was waiting to be explored, so we headed off, knowing we would come back soon.


Grandma Judy

Author: Judy

I am a new transplant to Portland from Salinas, a small city in Central California. This is a blog about my new city.

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