Libraries tend to be some of the most architecturally stunning places in the world. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. From authoritarian classical gothic arches to sun drenched rooms made of ethereal glass, these buildings are sanctuaries, space ships, time machines and gateway all in one.
My local library is a celebrated architectural masterpiece. You can’t walk by the Seattle Public Library without taking a photo. Libraries of the world survive wars and revolutions because they are respected and masterful. The photo opportunities are abundant.
We managed to snag a few minutes of Seattle Public’s Librarian Marcellus Turner’s time to ask him a few questions. Enjoy.
The library seems to be one of the last places in America where no one tries to sell you anything. You can just hang out. Do you have an opinion on the library as a public space?
MT: Over the last 10 or so years, libraries have taken up the cause and role of the “third place” – a place / public space outside of home and work where people can enter and just “be” – participating in independent study, reflection, people watching or personal self-fulfillment. Equally important is that the library as public space allows a place for our citizens to connect with others, actively engage in topics, lectures, and events and have exposure to the arts. The fact that we offer these things for free is a fitting role for the library.
Have you seen a major shift lately in reader tastes and the types of
books they read?
MT: I don’t think so, but this is not based on any true observation or research. Having worked in libraries for so many years, I know that what goes around comes around and the reading tastes of library patrons everywhere continually circles, expands, contracts, and renews, just based on popularity, recommendations, life circumstances, age and new information.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?
MT: When people comment or directly share with me the love they have for The Seattle Public Library or information that they found as a result of our staff’s assistance, as well as seeing the wonder and amazement from our visitors when then enter our doors and marvel at our wonderful facilities.
I don’t know that you can call any of this “my job” because it is actually the “work and job” of my 700 plus colleagues who work for The Seattle Public Library, making our grounds and facilities clean and useable, answering questions and assisting our patrons with their informational needs, and offering great programs and events that provide more access, exposure and understanding of important issues locally and across the globe.
A library in Rhode Island actually removed all of the books. You go there to download books. What do you think about electronic books and how they affect the library?
MT: There are several public and school libraries also doing this and I think it is a great concept if it is appropriate for that community. As for e-books, I have to believe that whatever promotes reading and active engagement is a good thing.
I know a lot of bookstore employees end up spending most of their paycheck on books. Has working at a library introduced you to a lot of new authors and their work?
MT: Yes, you can’t help but have exposure to new authors and their works when you walk through our libraries, where we have books on display and are immediately re-directed to those shelves to look closer. It happens for me here at the Central Library and in our neighborhood libraries, so I’m always adding new titles to my reading list.
Is it still true you have to be quiet in a library?
MT: Respectfully quiet I dare say. And I say it that way because our libraries are active places of connection, engagement and movement that carry with it some level of “din and hum, laughter and whispering, conversational tones, active participation and kids shrieking with joy at a story time. So instead of saying that we actively enforce quiet, we opt for respectful quietness.
And yes, we especially encourage silence in areas of the library designated as quiet areas.
What is your favorite book?
MT: I really don’t know. I have favorites over time, I have favorite authors, I have favorite readers, I have favorite subjects to read and I have favorite genres so it is quite hard for me to name one book. But one of the books that I enjoy (but have read only once so I don’t know if that disqualifies it from being a favorite book) is a fictional book titled “The Company” by Max Barry. And I like it for its crazy take on corporate work. I also love JK Rowling’s creative mind just for the Harry Potter series and the character names, potions, classes and other imagery that is evoked in the series.
MT: Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to talk about libraries. It has certainly been my pleasure.
I like the idea of the ‘third place’. Thanks for sharing. I dare say that my local library won’t qualify as an architectural delight, located in a mall as it is, but it is true that many are fascinating to look at…
What about this beautiful library in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland http://www.robertmullan.com/blog/film-or-digital/
Here is a favourite space of mine – reading room in library in Melbourne. 100 years old this year.