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January 21, 2010


Jen Waller

Your response to Paul Constant is perfect.

Since I am from Seattle I feel like I'm modestly familiar with both The Stranger and SPL. I read The Stranger's response (and the ensuing comments) on the day it first posted.

First, you pretty much hit the nail on the head when you wrote:

" he seems like he has a chip on his shoulder and is channeling the spirit of talk radio by taking things out of context and then trying to cause problems—while simultaneously posturing his angsty hipster image. "

The Stranger is an alt-paper that gives new meaning to cynicism, sarcasm, and disparagement. Call me Pollyana, but I stopped reading the print version long ago. I read their blog about once a week, and I frequently tell myself to just remove them from my feed all together. They're just so negative.

That said, there are definitely some problems at SPL. The budget situation is tough all over, but the way SPL's budget is determined is – to my mind – extremely problematic. I won't go into the gory details here, but the budget (and how/where it falls within the overall city budget) is publicly available.

You are exactly correct: the Central Library is architecturally beautiful. It's a showpiece. Operationally, it is a difficult place in which to work. More importantly, I think a lot of users have come to realize its limitations. The "fix" for a lot of the problems probably require a lot of architectural changes. That's tough in any climate.

One of the places where SPL really shines is in their branch system. I feel like the Central Library is a the showpiece for tourists, and much of the real "good work" happens at the branches. Nearly every single branch was remodeled or rebuilt in the recent "Libraries for All" capital campaign. I think the branches are where "it's at," and they are where much of the really good, relevant programming takes place.

Many friends and colleagues had problems with Deborah Jacobs, the ex-City Librarian (I'm not one of those people). I will say this about her: there was probably no better advocate for the system. She put herself front and center where she needed to be. She has related stories about phoning city government officials on a weekly schedule. She is a tough act to follow.

So. I can see both sides. You are exactly right though: Writers at The Stranger (and, by default, probably many of its readers) like stirring things up. It's easier than taking real action.

Great post. I'm really glad you responded and took the stance you did.

Michael Golrick

I won't comment about the organizational issues at Seattle Public, what I did want to comment on was "the beauty of the building."

Architecturally, it may be award winning. It certainly is different.

As a long-time library professional in the public library world, my feelings about the building are very different.

Simply, I think the building is a monstrosity. In addition, it must be a royal, expensive pain to manage. When I visited it (ALA Midwinter a few years ago), my visceral reaction was that I hated it. The signage is miserable. To go up you are *FORCED* to take one route, and the signs to get out are almost missing. I got lost on the red floor and was in a near panic trying to get out and away from that space which totally freaked me out.

Sound travels in strange ways, bouncing off all the hard surfaces.

It is a maintenance nightmare. To wash the windows on the outside, they have to close the street!



Thank you for your positive suggestions and professional perspective demonstrated in this post and others. Keep up the good work. It's so easy to criticize and a bit more challenging to be creative and a contributor.


@Michael-- I'd be happy to take a few names of public libraries that you think have role model leadership and/or are inspiring-- I have 9 more columns to write for the series and I'd like to feature at least four more public libs. Your insight would be appreciated. As for the building-- I think it was the surprise and wonder that delighted me. I wasn't expecting it, so it blew me away. But I could see how people might dislike it. For example, I used to hate Andy Warhol, couldn't stand his work, but now I love it. It's a better of taste I guess. But thanks for sharing. I guess I'd need to spend more time there to study to flaws/usability

@jen. I've read the alt rags everywhere I lived so I know the type. Not much difference between the extreme right and the extreme left in terms of their hyperbole and cynicism. When we meet up at an ALA sometime, tell me more about SPL. I am fascinated by the place and would love to learn more.

@Spencer. I have been following the path of Phil Jackson and trying to be a better more constructive person. Thanks for the kind words.

Anonymously, in solidarity w/ Seattle Librarians

I have found this fascinating reading, and especially the earlier Stranger articles and the original AL article and comments to it. Say what you will about The Stranger's writers, but I find myself a little concerned by how easily you and other commenters here are ready to write off the criticisms and protests of your fellow librarians working in the field as some sort of grumbling or attitude problem. "Angst," as you say, as though all these librarians must just be bad eggs. Sure, this may explain the odd flamer, but there is obviously much more to these impassioned criticisms of the library's administration than grousing. I wonder why we are so quick to shush our own, when they are clearly crying out for help, and trying to tell you how things are? Perhaps instead of dismissing these protests, you should be listening to them?

As you observe, difficult and unpopular decisions must be made in these times, but it is hardly axiomatic that such decisions are good ones or good for their organizations, just because they're unpopular. Bad decisions are unpopular too, and tend to attract the kind of widespread protest that is so clearly the case in Seattle.


@Anonymous Thanks for posting and sharing your insight with me (us.) I appreciate your mature attitude. As I said, I didn't seek to write a political piece or even a new report. I would gladly listen to "protests" but I'm not really sure what you expect me to do. When people break down into melodramatics and insults-- it is hard to take them seriously,

I am sorry that you are unhappy with your work environment. As I continue to write the column we'll get to see how others are adjusting to these tough times as well. Thanks again for reading


@Anon And I respect that you want to keep your identity secret... but I'd love to ask some questions....


Ask away, Brian.

Oleg K.

I came here after enjoying "Next Steps: Change at American University," and was surprised to see the fuss.

After reading through the original column, the piece in The Stranger, this blog post, and all the adjoining comments I must say that regardless of what people's opinions are about SPL, the responses have been ridiculous. What with the anonymous comments, the original article taken completely out-of-context, and the ad hominem attacks, a civil discussion is near impossible. More to the point, the Next Steps column clearly (at least it's clear to me) is/was not the place for a forum on SPL's employee gripes.

Through it all, Brian, you have kept your cool and said all the right things. I'm looking forward to future Next Steps columns. Keep up the good work.

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