A journey to 330 Park Blvd. one will find the skeleton structure of the promising new Central Library. Commissioned at just under 185 million dollars, the new building boasts an astonishing nine stories, capped with an exquisite dome. This of course proves a welcome sight in Downtown, except perhaps for those patrons of the current Central Library.

It is the ubiquitous secret that the Central Library functions as the de facto hangout for the Downtown homeless. It is where they go for a computer to idle, a sink to shave, a toilet to vomit, a book to rest there head. One wonders if the new library will accommodate these base needs. What will become of these loyal patrons? Is no one concerned that they will follow the books to this new beautiful library, and in so doing, blemish the pristine chairs and smear the delicate pages. To appreciate the implications of this likely event, we should with all prudence consider the current state of the Central Library. But first a brief aside on what a library ought to be.

The library is a sacred place. The very word conjures images of hushed tables of lamp-lit readers, lonely corridors of books, clandestine librarians. It is a kind of labyrinth. One that happily captures the mind, and cultivates the imagination. Untouched by our flash drive culture, it holds a thousand ancient doors, each that have in them the potential to take an apt reader to distant places upon foreign themes. Cloaked in dust, it has an air of tradition. Representative of a literate public, that values the simple joy of reading.

This romanticized idea of the library is codified in our culture, and yet, unremarkably, bears little resemblance to the reality of our particular library. Let us get to the purpose, and do what no one else has the stomach for, and by way of honest appraisal, lift up the metaphorical rug where under has been swept the current condition of our library.

Central Library is admittedly modest, but not to a fault. It has an admirable collection that extends to the basement floors. But to what backward philanthropy has it succumbed, and in so doing to what depths has it fallen. It is more like a post-apocalyptic zoo, than a library. Horrible creatures lurk outside and in, forever stalking the corridors. Collectively they give off a scent that could only be compared to mustard gas. Upon entering the library one is suffocated by the stagnant air, and is struck by a sudden urge to shower. The books themselves have a permanent stickiness to them that spoils whatever novelty they may have once possessed. Security guards walk listlessly past making dumb show of their profession. Chairs. What is a library without chairs? And what warm infectious chairs are offered here. A chair after having been couched in by a man who, by the nose, has not showered in a week, is no longer an innocent chair. It offends the imagination, and brings to mind horrible images of disease, lice, and parasitic worms. Plainly speaking the whole place is unsanitary. Who would bring their children to such a place. And what do children make of these, as they would perceive, monsters. They must think reading to be the most degenerative practice. For what beasts it attracts. And therein lies the rub.

The homeless do not seek refuge in the library for its collection of books. For one thing they are effectively illiterate. No, they are there for the walls, for the internet access, for the bathrooms, for the heat, for the magazines, for everything except the books. They are the antithesis of a reading public. The modern incarnation of the barbarian hordes. Where is our great wall? Who is holding the keys of the kingdom? Who let the Central Library descend so low? These are questions that demand an answer.

As for the new library, I just hope they keep the riff-raff out.


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