Seattle Public Library as Place

Seattle Public Library (SPL) opened its flagship Central Library on May 23, 2004 to widespread acclaim. With its innovative design and services, SPL created a facility that incorporated intriguing choices regarding the distribution of functional space, modification of staffing standards to accommodate new points of service and the incorporation of a “book spiral” for the bulk of the nonfiction collection. Arranged by ascending Dewey Decimal Classification number, this concentric configuration presents an uninterrupted run of nonfiction material. With these ground-breaking achievements, SPL distinguishes itself as a place of interest within its community, as an object of study, as well as a venue for research.

With the support and sponsorship of the Library Foundation, we conducted a study in the Autumn of 2004 to investigate what the SPL Central Library means – socially, politically, culturally and economically – to library users and passers-by alike. Additionally, we examined if the “book spiral” is effective in helping users understand the organization of the library collection.

Following a pilot study, data collection was undertaken by a team of MLIS students from the Information School. Approximately 220 library users and passers-by were interviewed over a period of three weeks, covering various times of the day and days of the week. Study participants were recruited from passers-by near the four street corners surrounding the Central Library and in such diverse areas within the facility as the Mixing Chamber, World Languages, Fiction, the Children’s Room and the Book Spiral. Data analysis is expected to be completed by spring 2005. This study was made possible by the generous support of the Friends of the Seattle Public Library.