I’m reviewing copy-editing of the new book, which means I’m spending most of my days swearing at the copy-editor and typing STET hundreds of times over. Meanwhile there’s an election coming up in Seattle, and on the ballot is a levy for the public library. That should be a shoo-in for such a book-proud city, right? No excuse not to keep my nose to the grindstone.
Wrong. Critics of the levy, including the Seattle Times, are talking out both sides of their mouths. You know: “Of course we support the library but…”
But? There’s a “but” to supporting the library? Apparently so. The city, says the august Times editorial board, should pay for increased costs out of its budget, and a levy is the wrong way to pay. Which in principle is true, and in practice is bullshit. If the Times has its way and the levy doesn’t pass, part of Seattle’s great system of branch libraries will be closed.
So I just emailed this to every Seattleite in my address book along with a plea to vote. If you have any Seattleites in your address book, feel free to forward:
“My branch.” It’s personal. I can go to any other branch, of course, or to Rem Koolhaas’ magnificent downtown landmark, but my branch is part of my everyday life, part of my neighborhood. It’s where I belong.
It’s where books are held for me, slips marked HAZL sticking out of them, making me happy each time I see them waiting on the shelf: “For me!” It’s where I wait in line with uncharacteristic patience as five-year-olds laboriously check out a dozen books at a time. It’s where I pick up inter-library loan books, each in its peach-colored wrapper with dire warnings not to bend, mark, or mutilate, and always look first to see how far they’ve come to reach me: Oregon, Kansas, even all the way across country from Massachusetts. It’s where the librarians know me, and I them, and where I’m now advocating for the “recommended books” shelf to be reinstated. I like knowing that my librarians have good taste.
“My branch”: one small building devoted to the life of the mind, and to the egalitarianism of that life, regardless of how much you earn or don’t earn. If I had to pay for every book I read, I’d be a pauper several times over by now. The library is what keeps me alive. No wonder my spirits lift every time I walk up the steps.
But for how much longer? If this levy does not pass, the residents of at least three neighborhoods are going to be deprived of that sense of “my branch.” I may be one of them. You may be one of them.
I know if it happens to me, I will mourn. Something essential will be gone, ripped away by selfishness and indifference. My everyday life will be changed. Seattle will be changed. It’s not just me who’ll be the poorer for it, and not just you either; it’s all of us.