Library guy's library guide

When you're looking for a library, real libraries and Little Free Libraries are commingled in Google's search results. That's stupid, ain't it? It's fun to browse at a Little Free Library, the small box of books that a few good citizens keep in their front yard, but you can't walk around and sit down inside a Little Free Library. Can't ask a little-free-librarian for help finding something. Can't reserve a book.

Also, LFLs don't have internet access or restrooms, two things I always need. For that you need a real library, which is (pay attention, Google) a building with books, magazines, videos, knowledgeable staff, and of course screaming babies and sleeping drunks. Those are some universal features at any library; what varies is the volume of the screaming, ease of restroom access, and of course the neighborhood.

Seattle's downtown library

As I rattle and prattle around the south side of Seattle, here's my evaluation of the public (but not Little Free) libraries I've been using…

Beacon Hill (SPL)
   2821 Beacon Ave S

This is not a particularly big or busy branch, but it's my go-to library, because it's the branch with the most and best hours, and it's the only branch with an easy-to-understand schedule. Six days a week it's open at 10AM. Noon on Sundays.

For any other branch (except downtown), you have to doublecheck the schedule — one day they'll open at 10AM, the next at 1PM or 11AM, and on other random days they won't open at all.

Every library has its regular bums, and one of my favorites is here. He's a white guy who looks 75 and is probably 30. To me he's the Abba-bum, because he sits at a computer, clicks to YouTube, and listens to Abba. He wears headphones, so we can't hear the music, but he hums along. "Fernando" seems to be his favorite.

Another regular is Stinky Man, who usually sits at a table that seats six, but always sits alone.

Beacon Hill Library has ample sunlight and high ceilings, and the ceilings help keep the place quieter than most libraries.

Restrooms are relatively clean and always unlocked. More like this, please.

Nearby businesses include overpriced burgers and beer, and a good-size grocery store. There's something called Milk Drunk that looks like a coffee shop, and I've always wondered why they don't open until noon, but I just Googled 'em and apparently it's an ice cream and fried chicken sandwich place, which I guess I gotta try.

Serviced by the #36 and #60 and #107 buses, and it's a block from a Link station.

Boulevard Park (KCPL)
   12015 Roseberg Ave S

This is one of the quieter branches I've been to, unless it's Saturday morning story time, in which case kids will be laughing. That's better than the kids screaming at other branches, of course.

Open access to just one uinsex restroom, but it's kept clean.

There's a liquor store nearby, and a few other businesses within walking distance, but I've never walked to them.

#128 bus runs past every twenty minutes or so.

Burien (KCPL)
   400 SW 152nd St

This is the world's loudest, most consistently Screaming Baby Library. Expect a consistent barrage of crying infants, rowdy teenagers, and smelly mentally-ill folks talking, arguing, and sometimes even reading books. Five minutes of silence would be newsworthy here, but it's a large facility (two stories), and you can usually find a less-loud (but not quiet) corner.

Perhaps unexpectedly, this is also the only library where I've seen a librarian shush someone, but it's only happened once amidst a the library's infamous and endless wall of sound.

I got my KCPL card here, which was a surprise. I went to the desk to pay for printing a few pages, and the librarian said it would be free if I had a library card. I didn't yet have an address or a driver's license, so I said I probably couldn't qualify, but as usual I was wrong. She got me a library card in about three minutes, and the pages I'd printed were free.

The Burien branch is in the same building as Burien's City Hall, so the restrooms are available without a librarian's permission or pass code. The john is usually akin to a Sanican, though — you'll be wading in urine and toilet paper on the floor.

It's a great neighborhood, if you're combining errands — there's a transit hub a few blocks away, a Grocery Outlet and Dollar Tree, a cheap-but-good doughnut shop, and several blocks of small and interesting businesses. For a yummy lunch for five bucks or so, grab a meat pastry at Australian Pie Company down the street.

A few weeks back, though, some asswipe firebombed the library's book drop after hours, which set off the sprinklers, and the building got flooded. It's still closed for repairs. I guess one man can make a difference.

Easy ride on the #120, #121, #131, #132, #161, #165, #560, #631, and the F-line.

Columbia City (SPL)
   4721 Rainier Ave S

This is a Carnegie library, built with money donated by that long-ago billionaire. He was an absolute bastard, of course, but at least he left the world some beautiful libraries like this one. I wish all billionaires had left the world.

The building has tall ceilings, high windows, and not many screaming babies.

Every time I'm at the Columbia City branch, there's an old guy in the periodicals section, reading magazines out loud. He's quiet-ish about it, and I'm not even sure he knows he's doing it, but he reads every word of the articles, even the headlines and bylines and "continued on page 41." Thank Christ he doesn't read the ads. When he reads National Geographic, I might pick a table nearby, so while surfing the net I'm subliminally getting an education. When he reads Fortune, I sit at the opposite end of the room so I don't walk out dumber than I walked in.

For restroom access you need to ask for a key, and to ensure that you remember to return it, it's attached to a 10-inch bookend. That's charming, I guess, but it feels conspicuous walking back from the men's room carrying the bookended key.

Buses include the venerable and frequent #7, and the #50.

Delridge (SPL)
   5423 Delridge Way SW

The external signage at this branch is minimal, with lettering that's quite small, so I almost didn't find this branch for my first visit. Even the library's neighbors might not know it's there, and indeed, inside this is the emptiest of all the branches I've been to, and almost eerily quiet.

Sometimes I'm the only non-employee in the building, so I've left my laptop open on the table while stepping into the men's room. Everyplace else, I unplug it and lug it to the john with me.

Restrooms are behind an access code, but at Delridge the security system has been broken for at least weeks, so you're free to pee without asking permission (at least in the men's room).

The neighborhood is blah, nothing but housing.

Get there on the #120.

Downtown (SPL)
   1000 Fourth Ave

When I lived in Seattle as a boy and young man, the downtown library was big and classy and exciting, and I knew it by heart. That place is gone, and replaced with this eleven-story disappointment.

The building looks cool from the outside, all glass and angled steel. The walls and slanted ceilings are largely see-through to let the light in, but stupidly, the glass is covered with metal mesh so not much light actually gets inside — enough to read during daylight hours, but it's blues- and headache-inducing and you wouldn't mistake it for daylight.

Of course, because it's downtown, open to the public, and America no longer believes in social services or a safety net, It's always crowded with homeless people. And because homeless people worry ordinary people, the library is constantly crawling with cops.

In my three unpleasant visits to the downtown library, there have always been three or four cops assigned to the library beat. They simply stand there, at the top and bottom of the main escalator. Sometimes they walk around "on patrol" in fiction and non-fiction and past the magazine racks. It feels like you're in the Prison Public Library.

It's the largest library around, with (wild-guess) a thousand tables or more, and many thousands of chairs, but you won't be able to find one where you're not bumping elbows with a homeless man. You're damned right they have the right to be there, and I've never been panhandled inside or felt unsafe, but they're all there. Not much room for anyone else.

The men's room is always open, unlocked, diseased and disgusting.

Kudos, though, to whoever decided to install some old-style phone booths that don't require coins or payment. Free phone access for the homeless, and for people like me who don't carry a phone.

There are some sandwich shops nearby, but everything's way overpriced because (duh) it's downtown, and every shop locks up after 2PM and over the weekend.

Easy bus or train access from anywhere, but between the darkness inside, and all the cops, and the hundreds of homeless people at the downtown library, every other library is the library I'd rather be at.

Greenbridge (KCPL)
   9720 8th Ave SW

This is a mini-branch inside what's mostly the neighborhood YMCA, and it seems to function more as a drop-off daycare center than a library. Expect children and expect noise, and once school lets out in the afternoon, expect nothing but children and noise.

Greenbridge is tricky if you're bringing your own laptop or device — there's only one chair with access to an electric outlet. That chair has always been empty and waiting for me, though.

Restroom entry is via a passcode, and the system is brutal — if you make a typo, the keypad takes at least several minutes to reset itself, and during that time, even if you press the right code, it won't work, and instead restarts the several minutes' lockout clock. Since I gotta pee every 90 minutes or so and the passcode device is such a hassle, I try to avoid Greenbridge.

The men's room passcode is 3387#, by the way. You're welcome.

There's nothing much in the neighborhood, except the YMCA and a nice coffee shop down the street.

Oh, and in my several visits to the area I have never seen a green bridge. I asked the librarian about this, but just got a sigh. I think he thought I was one of the bums (not an unreasonable assumption, from the look of me).

Take the #60, #128, or #131.

High Point (SPL)
   3411 SW Raymond St

Reasonably quiet — only about two screaming babies per hour.

But it's also the library where I'm convinced the librarian is a Republican. She keeps an evil-eye watch over the homeless, and whispers warnings to small children to avoid bumland in the back. Like all librarians, she'll never say shush to loud patrons — it's against union rules nowadays, I think — but she'll holler at people asleep in the chairs, even if they're not snoring or doing anything to bother anyone.

Once when I was there she announced from her desk that she'd just come from the men's room "and I would appreciate it if you men learned to flush a toilet." Well, I would appreciate it if the lady librarians stayed out of the men's room. Since then I've made sure to never flush when I use the toilet there.

This is possibly improbable or probably impossible, but it feels like she's keeping tabs on who surfs what. Thus this is also the only branch where I never click anything 'adult'.

The restrooms at High Point are locked, but when you ask at the desk they'll buzz you in, so at least you don't have to memorize a passcode or carry a key attached to a bookend.

Seems like a mostly residential neighborhood.

#21 bus.

South Park (SPL)
   8604 Eighth Ave S

There are always lots of children here, so expect talking, laughing, running, etc, but oddly there's little or no screaming.

At this branch, the head librarian is the prototype for all librarians everywhere. She's 50-something, always wears a long plain dress, glasses, and a stern expression. Even if you saw her at the hardware store, you'd know she's a librarian. 

She had an almost-magic moment here, though. A couple of black girls, maybe 3rd- or 4th-graders, were talking to each other, and one asked the other a homework-type question, something tedious that I've forgotten.

That archetype librarian was walking past, overheard, and stopped at their table to answer the question. As the three of them talked for a few minutes, one of the girls asked the librarian, "Are you the owner?"

She looked confused and said, "I don't understand."

"Do you own this place?"

"Well, nobody owns this place, really, or we all do. It's a public library." This was a concept the kids had never thought about, and the library lady explained it to them. As they understood what she was saying, I'll say again, it was almost magical. That's what libraries are.

Ask and someone on staff will buzz you into the restrooms. Twice when I've been buzzed in there was a homeless guy (same guy both times) partially stripped and washing himself, then drying himself with the Dyson. He's very polite, though, and clean.

The library is surrounded by apartment buildings on every side, but it's only a few blocks walk to "downtown South Park," a small but lively area with a coffee shop, taqueria, laundromat, etc.

#60 and #132 buses.

SouthWest (SPL)
   9010 35th Ave SW

It's fairly quiet here, but the floor is annoyingly criss-crossed with heat ducts and vents. There's nothing under the industrial carpeting except either concrete or ductways, and concrete sounds different than ductways, so when anyone's walking you'll hear footsteps that randomly go clomp-CLOMP-clomp-clomp-CLOMP. It's distracting and disconcerting, and never stops inside the library.

On the plus side, you can simply walk into the restrooms, clomp-CLOMP-CLOMP-clomp, through open doors, with no keys or security codes.

Bonus points because I got my SPL card at the SouthWest branch.

It's in a mixed residential/business neighborhood, and there's a good-looking fish'n'chips place across the street, but there's no menu posted in the window so I've never eaten there and never will.

#21 and C-line buses.

White Center (KCPL)
   1409 SW 107th St

This library is usually busy but doesn't seem to attract many screaming babies or laughing teenagers, so it's quite quiet. Sometimes it's so soundless you can hear that the building itself emits a low humming sound, like it's an idling car.

There's often an old Asian woman at a table near the back, with her husband and a young child I'd guess to be her granddaughter. She reads to the girl from English-language children's books but in a heavily-accented, halting voice, and occasionally the child corrects her pronunciation. Yeah, it's adorable. Some days they're not there, but when they are, it makes me feel almost patriotic.

There's open access to the restrooms, but the doors are always propped open and like I said, the library is very quiet, so everyone in the building can hear every plop, every drip, and especially every flush. The toilet has an oversensitive flush-sensor, so while pooping, every time you shift position, lean forward, reach for toilet paper, etc, the toilet auto-flushes again.

It might be just me, though. I never hear more than two or three flushes when anyone else is using the toilet.

When I poop there, though, it flushes half a dozen times during a quick and easy poop, and a difficult poop can be twenty flushes. Pretty soon the staff understandably thinks something's up, so a male staffer has been waiting in the men's room every time I've finished my sit-down business. It's not the ideal poop experience, so next time I'm there and feel the need, I might walk a block to Taco Bell, order a shitty burrito, and take my dump there.

This branch has weird tables, with a hole in the middle running the length of every table. It's perfect for accidentally letting pens, papers, and AC adapters plunge through.

It's in a fairly hopping neighborhood, so before or after a library visit you can go shopping at Saar's Super Saver or a convenience store, eat fast food or take a dump at Taco Bell, etc.

#120 bus, which is in the process of becoming the new H-line.

— — —

SPL is the Seattle Public Library, and KCPL is the King County Public Library, blanketing the suburbs. To patrons, the only difference is the library cards. I have one of each.

For a Civics class in sixth or seventh grade, I wrote a brilliant report proposing that the city and county library systems should be combined for efficiency's sake, but so far as I know nobody who matters has ever seriously suggested it.


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