Sunday, May 22, 2011

Further Random Library Adventures

I thought applying for a Seattle Public Library card would be a straightforward process. Silly me.

The online application was easy indeed. It took less than five minutes to enter the required information and submit it. The confirmation instructed me to show up at a branch, any branch, to receive my card.

Two weeks later, I entered the Queen Anne Branch. This was my library back in the early 1980s, just three blocks from my apartment. It was a lovely old building, primarily one large room with radiators for heat, dark wooden floors, and windows high above the shelves. It smelled like floor wax and warm wood and paper. The staff had been there a long time and enjoyed talking with their patrons.

They had a lot of slow days, alas, which eventually prompted SPL to close the branch. Budget woes came along just as demand for reopening the Queen Anne branch began to build. There was hot debate about the future of the building - would the community use it enough to warrant a remodel or should it be sold? The community won. And here I was, visiting my old library once again.

I browsed around a bit. The floor plan was certainly different, chopped up into small areas by glass-and-wood dividing walls. They'd moved the checkout desk closer to the entrance. Hold shelves were right in the middle of nonfiction along with a tiny Reference desk, some opacs, and the public printer. It felt cluttered and tight. I decided to get on with picking up my new library card.

I approached the desk with my ID and KRL library card. The lone staffperson carried on with her task, clearly unprepared to interrupt what she was doing. There was a two-foot-wide counter between us. I waited. No response from her beyond a quick glance at my purse.

"Excuse me, I applied for a library card online. What do I do next?"

She looked up, blinked, and held out her hand for my ID. I waited as she typed something. She looked at me, sighed, and said, "You understand this isn't free since you live outside the city limits?"

"Ah," I replied, "my library, Kitsap Regional, recently entered into a reciprocal agreement with SPL. It should be ok for me to get a card without the fee."

More typing. Another sigh. "You need to register first."
"I do? I've already filled out the online application."
"I can see that but you still need to register. You can register on one of our computers."
"Okay. Where on the website do I find the registration? I didn't see it when I applied online."
Another sigh. She handed back my ID. "Come over here."

I followed her through a maze of walls and shelves to a single computer tucked into a corner. She brought up the screen I needed and left. Alrighty then. I looked at the screen. The registration consisted of confirming my email address. Are you kidding me? I filled in the two oh-so-important registration fields and hit Enter. Done! Back to the desk.

"I'm back!" I announced, holding out my ID and KRL card. "Now what?"

More typing. Pause. Type, type, type. She reached under the counter for a library card, scanned it, and handed it to me. She turned back to her task. I found the Humor shelves, chose two books, used self-checkout, and headed to my car.

What an experience! Had they had a difficult staff meeting at the Queen Anne branch that morning? Perhaps SPL's never-ending reorganizing and budget concerns are beginning to wear out the staff. Who knows? I was suddenly, deeply, homesick for the branch that this place had once been, back in its day.

I've gone to a couple of other branches since then to pick up my holds. The Lake City branch has expanded well beyond the small brick building we visited when our kids were pre-elementary age. You know the adage "You can't go home again"? That has certainly proven true for the Seattle Public Library of my memory. Oh well. I'm still having a grand time with their collection.

Overheard on Twitter: I grabbed a tissue, blew my nose, and then thought "This tissue smells like my cat." #whatsbeengoingonhere

Next time: whatever presents itself. Stay tuned.

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