Beacon Hill Celebrates Grand “Re-imagining” of Neighborhood Library

by Marcus Harrison Green

Libraries should elicit the sense of a living room’s coziness instead of purgatory inside a sterile monastery.

Such thinking was the animating force behind the Seattle Public Library’s remodel, or as they like to call it, “re-imagining” of their Beacon Hill Branch, according to SPL City Librarian Marcellus Turner. He was on hand Sunday afternoon along with other SPL staff for the branch’s reopening ceremony.

“Re-imagining, is a term that I brought here. One of the things that I first recognized was that our libraries were being used in such a different way from how they were traditionally built,” said Turner, standing inside the Beacon Hill branch’s foyer just outside the branch’s gathering room where a Cuban fusion band performed.

SPL’s head librarian added that the 12 year old Branch, opened in July of 2004, was badly outmoded, in many cases featuring just one electrical outlet per wall – far from convenient to a tech saturated population.

“You need technology everywhere. We need opportunities for the public to plug in,” he said, while pointing to two teenage girls fixated on their Smartphone screens at a table in front of him.

The Beacon Library’s modernization included an upgrade to LED lighting, a lobby laptop bar, re-carpeting, a reconfigured children’s area with mobile shelves, new laptops and two iPads for check-out, and the replacement of bulky information desks greeting patrons as soon as they walked in with an open space with smaller check out kiosks.

The branch originally closed down for renovations in early January, and then reopened in mid-February even though the renovation was not fully complete.

According to Turner, all of the renovation suggestions came directly from the library’s patrons, a fact some in attendance found refreshing.

“I think listening is a lost art in our current state of affairs, and the fact that they listened to the community and took the feedback is inspiring,” said Jackie Leon, who lives in the neighborhood.

Jackie also said she plans to visit the library more frequently. Before the remodel, she patronized it about twice a month.

Enthusiasm for the branch’s improved interior was also shared by those working there.

“Removing some of the shelves gives us a really good visual from the front,” said Diane Cowles, a 28 year SPL veteran who has worked at the Beacon Hill Branch since just after its opening.

And while community members seem to generally appreciate the library’s more inviting entryway and the overall renovations, there are a few who have grumbled about the changes. According to Beacon Hill resident Angela Castaneda.

“I like the technology / computer lab improvements for youth and folks that need access, but I’ve heard from old timers who frequent the place, there’s less ‘lounging to read’ area. I guess you can only do so much with the footage you have,” said Castaneda, who was unable to attend Sunday’s celebration.

While SPL might not be able to please everyone, it wanted to make sure what grumbling it did receive, was not coming primarily from angry taxpayers mad at entity spending lavishly from the public trough.

“You want to give the library a refresh. You want it to look new, but you don’t want it to appear over the top or ostentatious, or ask is this a good resources of the tax payers money,” said Theresa Benny, of her interior design company of the same name.

Beacon Hill was one of several libraries, including the recently remodeled Rainier Beach library, that SPL and the City of Seattle contracted with Benny to renovate. She chose the multicolored carpet and lime green color scheme for the Beacon Hill branches’ interior.

With a total price tag of $696,000, the 10,400 square foot branch’s remodel was financed by a combination of the 2012 library levy, Real Estate Excise Tax, and the Library Gift Fund.

Servicing nearly 400 visitors a day, the library will continue to offer children’s and Mandarin Chinese story times, one-on-one technology help, local author talks, community concerts, and bi-lingual “play and learns.”

MHG ColorMarcus Harrison Green, is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of the South Seattle Emerald, the current scholar-in-residence at Town Hall Seattle, a former Reporting Fellow with YES! Magazine, a past- board member of the Western Washington Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a recipient of Crosscut’s Courage Award for Culture. He currently resides in the Rainier Beach neighborhood and can be found on Twitter @mhgreen3000