Multnomah County Library: Central Library – 2/20/2013

2013-02-20 13.00.52If the photo of the second floor reading and Science and Business room at the Multnomah County Central Library (left) doesn’t set your heart aflutter, I might need to question your humanity.  Those are pink walls people, and I’ll go ahead and assert that they are simply impossible not to love!

Before entering the library, though, I found myself engaged in the time-honored tradition of standing outside the library (a historic building dating from 1913) waiting for it to open.  As I stood, I was approached by a woman who asked me the library’s hours.  On the surface, this woman seemed to be nothing like me: she was older and her face appeared worn by what was at the very least a hard life.  And yet here we were, both waiting for the library to open and discussing our shared predicament.  This brief experience reminded me of what I love about public libraries and of why I wanted to become a librarian in the first place.  There is something truly beautiful (to me, at least) about a place that welcomes all kinds of different people and gives them the opportunity to interact.  The Central Library in downtown Portland, OR is truly one such place.

2013-02-20 13.02.49In addition to the lively mix of patrons, the library houses an impressive collection that includes zines, independent comics, over 12,000 rare books (visit the John Wilson Special Collections if you have the chance, I did and it was well worth it) and a ton of other resources.  The children’s section on the first floor is home not only to a great selection of books but also to a story theater and a truly lovely tree sculpture (sorry no picture) that I would deem a must-see.

The library also has ample seating, outlets, and wireless internet access, which makes it a great stop if you’re traveling through the area.  Be advised, though, that unlike other, (often) smaller libraries, comfortable seating is not a priority here: I saw no cushioned chairs or couches, so you might want to bring your own pillow if you have lumbar issues.

Finally, the weather and my own inability to ‘get my shit together’ prevented me from touring the library’s green roof.  They do have one though, and if you’re visiting the library, I hope you check it out (and then let me know all about it!)

For more information about the Multnomah County Library’s Central Library, visit their website at


San Francisco Public Library: Main Library – 2/7/2013

Wow y’all, where to begin?  I recently visited the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL)’s main library and it totally exceeded my expectations.  In fact, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

2013-02-07 16.39.13Unlike some other amazing libraries, San Francisco’s main library has a pretty drab exterior (at least I think so – their website extolls the beaux arts style marble…).  Thankfully, what’s waiting inside is anything but ordinary.  The library, which was finished in 1996, is built around a central atrium that is five stories tall and topped with a huge skylight.  I was initially concerned that all this open space might make the library really noisy, but it doesn’t.  Instead, the open center and unusual walkways manage to create a sense of shared experience across the building’s different floors.

This integration is even more noteworthy given the diverse group of library users I observed while walking around.  People speaking a variety of languages, sporting an array of styles, and engaging in a range of activities (carrying a whole box of Rice Krispies?  painting your nails?  yes, I saw you at SFPL on Thursday) were all coexisting in the library in a way that should truly make San Francisco proud.

In addition to the built environment’s lovely features, the library is home to numerous awesome collections.  These include (among others): the Filipino American Center, the Gay and Lesbian Center, and the Chinese Center.  I hate to admit it, but I missed all of these.  In my defense, I was distracted.  Distracted by the many walls that are decorated with compelling displays on subjects ranging from ranging from botanical drawings to Russian cubism in children’s books to the history of Wimmen’s Comix.  What can I say – I’m a sucker for a good display.

The two areas that I did manage to check out were the library’s Art, Music, and Recreation Center where I browsed through their collection vintage posters and LP’s and the San Francisco History Center.  The History Center houses (among many other things) a collection of totally awesome-looking vintage city maps and giant wooden globe.  Rather than representing the whole planet, though, the globe shows only San Francisco, but in a sphere – it’s pretty bizarre.  I also spent longer than is probably normal inspecting several of the walls throughout the library that have been papered with old catalog cards (sadly no good photos of this, but I promise it’s as awesome as it sounds) which were utterly absorbing.

While description above doesn’t even scratch the surface of what the SFPL’s main library has to offer, I hope it’s encouraged you to check it out for yourself.  If only because I missed their zine collection and would love a travel buddy!

For more information about visiting the main branch of San Francisco Public Libraries, visit their webpage at

Seattle Public Library: Central Library – 1/30/2013

I’ll warn you now: this entry will be completely biased.  Why?  Because I’m a huge fan of Seattle and I’m totally in love with the Central Library!  That might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not.  I bring up the library every chance I can – so much so that I’ve started to hear my friends (not-so-subtly) mumble “get a room” under their breaths.

What can I say?  No matter how you feel about the exterior of this eleven story contemporary structure (opened May 2004), inside it is pure library magic.

2013-01-25 14.09.22Visitors entering the library through the revolving door on Fifth Street will find themselves in the library’s main atrium filled with general seating, a cafe, and shelves of new and fiction books to browse.  While there are quite a few books on this level, they’re just a taste of the library’s collection which boasts more than one million items.

As you make their way up through the libraries many floors, you may be struck by the neon yellow hue in the elevators and on the escalators or by the intense red-ness of basically everything on the fourth floor (I have no pictures of this, since taking pictures in an all red space = hard, but there are some good ones on-line).

You might also stop off to use one of the library’s more than 400 public computers.  If you do, and if you’re anything like me, you might feel your heart fluttering at the sight of people from all walks of life gathering together to find, share, and create information.

Most of the Central Library’s non-fiction collection is arranged in a ‘book spiral’ that enables visitors to walk through the whole of the Dewey Decimal system along a series of ramps.  I have to admit that when I first heard about this feature it sounded a-mazing, but when I actually walked through it, I was underwhelmed.  Maybe I had built it up too much in my head…

The top public floor of the library (10th floor – the 11th is all offices) is mostly open and is designated as a reading area, but it is also home to the Hugh and Jane Ferguson Seattle Room.  2013-01-25 14.18.41

If you have a chance to make it to this special collection, I recommend that you take advantage of it!  First, the clear shelves (pictured right) also act as the walls of the collection room, which is genius.  And second, the collection its self is awesome and includes a ton of great old books and lovely-smelling vintage newspaper clippings about all aspects of life in the early days of the Pacific Northwest.  I particularly enjoyed the collection of vintage yearbooks.

By now you’ve probably had enough of my ode to this library, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some additional features that I didn’t have a chance to check out: 1. the Children’s area on the first floor 2. the Aviation history collection on the seventh floor and 3. the music and performance art practice rooms on the eighth floor (totally amazing, right?)

If I haven’t scared you away and you’re still interested in learning more about the Seattle Public Libraries Central Library, check out their virtual tour or their website at:

Odegaard Undergraduate Library – 1/28/2013

After visiting the Suzzallo library, I made the mistake of heading across the University of Washington quad to the Odegaard undergraduate library.  I know that sounds harsh and in the library’s defense, they are in the middle of a big renovation project which looks totally awesome (I’ll hopefully be back with a full report once they’re finished).

Nevertheless I have to admit that my two take aways from the short time I spent at the library were: 1. The surprising similarity between the smell of the stairwell and the smell of my junior high school gym and 2. When did undergraduates start looking like they should be reading YA?

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The whole experience was very disorienting as I tried to hide my age by slinking behind waist-high shelves crammed with intro texts.

To learn more about Odegaard and their exciting remodel check out their website:

Suzzallo and Allen Libraries – 01/28/2013

2013-01-28 15.31.37The University of Washington students I know refer to Suzzallo as the main “graduate library” on the Seattle campus.  Where I went to undergrad we only hand one main library, so clearly the UW has us beat.  I’m not bitter, though, because the Suzzallo library is an awesome place to visit.

The building, constructed in the 1920’s, is a beautiful example of Gothic architectural style.  Inside you will, if you have time, find over 2 million print volumes, computer and open space, the several reading rooms, and a variety of special collections.  Given the size of the library and (to some degree) my own laziness, I wasn’t able to even scratch the surface of what they have to offer.

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I did make it to the Hogwarts-esque Suzzallo reading room and across the enclosed walkway to the Allen Library, which is newer than Suzzallo, but equally lovely.  While I was meandering in the library I definitely got a vibe (yes, I know, the whole idea of ‘vibes’ is totally moronic, but bear with me here) of intellectual curiosity and studiousness which made me downright nostalgic for academia.

If you hate the rain or simply don’t have a way of making it to the University of Washington, the library has a fun virtual tour as well as many photos and lots of information on their website: