As I noted in my Week in Readings post on Monday, Ta-Nehisi Coates reads from his new book, Between the World and Me, tonight as part of the 2015-2016 Seattle Arts & Lectures season. The reading is long since sold out; if you don't have tickets already, you are out of luck.
But allow me to take this opportunity to tell you something: if you haven't yet read Coates's book Between the World and Me, you are missing out on the most important book of the year. I wrote a review of the book when it was released this summer. My review incorporated some then-current events, particularly the Black Lives Matter protesters who interrupted a Bernie Sanders rally in Westlake Park and in so doing kicked off a racist firestorm.
I was wrestling at the time — still am, really — with the hypocrisy of Seattle's progressive self-perception. This is a racist city, and it refuses to recognize that it is a racist city. Seattle really needs to listen to what Coates has to say tonight. And if you think you don't need to read Coates's book, you probably do. Please read my review, and then read the book.
The first issue of Art Ops, a new comic by Shaun Simon and Mike Allred, contains one indelible image: Mona Lisa, shopping in a contemporary grocery store. She’s wearing a bright yellow hoodie, and she’s buying cans of soup — Campbell’s soup, of course, an obvious shout-out to Andy Warhol, who has a cameo elsewhere in the issue. The young man running the checkout counter screws up the nerves to ask her out: “So, Lisa, I was wondering if you…if you wanted to catch a movie or something.” Mona Lisa responds, of course, with a mysterious little smile, and before she can say anything in response, something weird interrupts the moment.
Art Ops begins with a premise that seems charming enough, if a little bit limited: a special team of operatives have the power to literally bring art to life. They pull the Mona Lisa from her frame because some mysterious, malevolent force is coming for her, and they put her into a kind of Art Witness Protection Program. Elsewhere in the issue, graffiti walks off the walls and attacks a few New Yorkers. Banksy even makes a(n off-panel) appearance. It’s a good high concept, but how many famous paintings can you screw around with before the idea loses its thrill?
Luckily, there’s a whole lot more going on in Art Ops. It feels as though Simon and Allred have constructed many layers to the world, adding a bruised family dynamic and a wide cast of characters. It’s basically a superhero story — one character’s right arm is made out of art, another character wears a black jumpsuit and flies around — but the narrative hints at a moral complexity that’s lurking off to the edges of the story.
Mike Allred is the best character designer in mainstream comics today. Each player in Art Ops has their own look and feel, and his pop realism is perfect for incorporating all the little art history jokes into the background throughout the issue. Allred’s Jack Kirbyesque energy is perfect for a premise like this: he doesn’t get too wrapped up in emulating, say, Da Vinci’s rendering. Instead, he gives us Allred’s version of Mona Lisa and Allred’s cover of Lichtenstein. This is less about mimicking and more about interpretation; only an artist with Allred’s confidence could pull that trick off.
We don’t learn what the antagonists of Art Ops are up to in this first issue; in fact, we don’t even see who the antagonists of Art Ops are. The protagonist is a little bit of a dick, and the story does rely on that oldest motivational trope, the death of a girlfriend, to get the action going. But it’s a lively, ambitious, layered first issue that hints at a bigger payoff in issues ahead. I’ve read a lot of bad first issues lately; Art Ops is the first one I’ve come across in a few weeks that suggests the journey will be worth the investment.
In an unusually well-attended board meeting Wednesday evening, the Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously to halt implementation of the proposed logo and name change last night. This stops the proposed implementation of the brand and name change, which would have cost $570,000 over the next two years. However, it was unclear — both to the audience, and it seemed to the board itself — what exactly the implications of this vote might be on the work already generated by the rebranding process.
Six members of the public signed up to give comment. All spoke passionately against the rebranding. Don Glickstein, former VP of Friends of the Library, pointed to graphic and typographic flaws with the proposed logo: "We can achieve our goals of attracting nonusers in more direct and effective ways."
Another commenter, Mary Jo Porter said "It's such a ridiculous idea that I couldn't think of anything cogent to say about it…. It's going to kill you in future campaigns for money."
Laura Kaufman pointed out that the one-hundred-year archive of the Seattle PI's card catalog is sitting in a warehouse on Queen Anne, and should be made accessible through the library, as an example of a better use of funds.
Before the vote, the board took a few minutes to speak on the proposal. Dan Dixon said the branding campaign was an effort to explore "how do we continue to operate in the digital age that makes it meaningful to millennials?" He thanked (and thanked and thanked) the public for the feedback and "the remarkable affection you have for the library."
Tré Maxie started his comments by quoting Percy Shelley, whose work was part of the original collection of Sarah Yesler when she became the first City Librarian. He expressed frustration that "what this board has been working on for almost two years has been reduced to 'we just need to change our name and our logo.'"
He said: "I sit here conflicted about what I am going to do when the chair calls for the vote. I do appreciate we do have a city that largely loves the library. …the library represents one of the last institutions where anybody can walk in."
Marie McCaffrey commented that "All of us walk through these doors because we love books. We want this library to be one of the most important institutions in the city."
Board president Theresa Fujiwara: "We've listened to experts, we've listened to staff, we've listened to Friends of the Library. We've heard loud and clear from the public. I want to express my appreciation for the deep level of engagement."
Dixon made the motion on the rebranding effort in two parts:
The movement was seconded by board Vice President Kristi England.
Then, Maxie moved to amend the original proposal to say that "the Library not move forward with the name change and new logo". There was some discussion where it seemed Dixon was attempting to point out that his language already spoke to Maxie's concerns, but Maxie was unswayed. He said the board needed to "eliminate any subjectiveness about what this board is doing here tonight."
His motion was seconded by McCaffrey. After a joke from Maxie that he'd be the only vote on his amendment, it split the board until Fujiwara threw the deciding vote to Maxie.
The amended motion was then put before the board and passed, thus halting progress on the rebranding implementation.
What now? The way the board voted can be read in two ways. Generously? They were concerned that the work product of the rebranding effort — which they thought the public misunderstood as only a logo and renaming — would be lost and inaccessible for future work.
Or, less generously: since the logo and name change were what the public fixated on, offering them as sacrificial lambs would leave the rest of the work unchanged, and City Librarian Marcellus Turner can continue with his policy changes largely unimpeded. In other words, the part of the rebranding that is the most fundamental to him.
It is the board's responsibility to articulate the need for projects that require so much capital. Their frustration with the public's misperception of the issue stems from their unclear guidance on this issue.
Last night contained no aspect of censure or introspection about the policies that led them to where they are. While stopping the logo was important in order to not throw good money after bad, we have always been clear that the problem here was not the rebranding itself. The problem is communication, a drive to change the fundamental meaning of what our library is to its community, and that library leadership is still "anti-book”. There was no sense, on that front, that the board heard the public at all.
Brandon Macz at the Capitol Hill Times published Weinstein A+U's first designs for the new building that will be built on the site where Hugo House now stands. The design for the new Hugo House includes "a reading lounge along a window wall at 11th Avenue that will feel like a library" and a "long gallery [that] will lead to a performance space, which is planned to have telescoping bleacher seating for large readings," as well as "a café themed to match Hugo House."
This is exciting stuff. Of course it will be sad to lose the old Hugo House building, but this new space has the chance to be something great. If the café is open late and serves booze, for instance, it stands a very good chance of being the literary bar that Seattle so desperately needs. (I've been going on about Seattle's need for a literary bar for years now.) The best thing about the promise of a new space is the way it puts our imaginations to work. We can't help but envision filling this space in all sorts of new and exciting ways. Go take a look, and start thinking about all the ways you'd spend time in that space.
Thank you for your article about what is happening at the Library. It sounds like the "rebranding" is the tip of the iceberg of problems at the Library. How can we create change in the leadership at the Library, and get back to valuing reading and books?
Thank you for reading, Sandra, and thanks for the question. The best way to tell the Library Board that you're unsatisfied with their leadership is to attend the Library Board meeting, which is today at 5 pm at the Central Library downtown. If you can't make it to the meeting, you should write to the board and let them know your feelings.
But perhaps you'd also like to take your complaint directly to Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council? As Laurel Holliday reported for us on Monday, City Hall is very aware of the situation at SPL, and they're keeping close tabs on the public response. I know that sometimes reaching out to the government feels like you're hollering into the void, but trust me when I say that your elected officials know the public is upset with SPL leadership, and they are more likely to demand change if they hear from many of their unhappy constituents. Your voice does matter, Sandra, and taking the time to write to your elected officials on this is so important.
Our October Bookstore of the Month is a special one, because it’s a bookstore that will only exist in the world for one day. The Short Run Comix & Arts Festival will take place this year on October 31st at Fisher Pavilion in the Seattle Center, and for that one day, it will be the largest bookseller of independent literature, zines, and comics in the Seattle area. Every week this month, we’ll highlight a different Short Run exhibitor, to give you a better idea of the scope and breadth of the festival.
This year, Short Run announced a new self-publishing grant called The Dash. One cartoonist would be given $250 to fund the publication of their book, a free half-table at Short Run to sell their work, mentoring from special guest cartoonist Chuck Forsman, and a space in the Short Run art show at Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery.
The winner of the first-ever Dash grant is Krish Raghav, a Beijing-based cartoonist. He put the money toward the publication of his newest comic, “a Mexico City travelogue called Estilo Hindu.” Raghav explains that the book is about “street-side electric shocks (for fun!), nightclubs named after globe-trotting radicals, and a 25-year old dance party.” Estilo Hindu will be available for sale at Raghav’s table at the festival, along with some older comics about traveling to Moscow and "60s pop music in Singapore.”
Short Run is Raghav’s very first comics festival. “I'm expecting to buy many, many comics and meet many, many cool people,” he says. He’ll also be at the Fantagraphics Gallery on Friday night, where his work will appear alongside comics luminaries like Jim Woodring. Not bad for a convention virgin.
Raghav admits that in the past he’s “had a lot of trouble getting my works to look decent in print.” Anyone who’s lost hours trying to force the photocopiers at FedEx Kinko’s to be better than they are understands how mini-comics can represent a real drain on resources. Raghav says the cash infusion from the Dash grant “has been fantastic in both addressing my ignorance and making me print-ready for anything I do in the future.” You don’t need to drop four-figure checks into artist’s laps to make a difference; even relatively small payouts like The Dash can transform an artist’s life.
In her interview with Marcellus Turner yesterday, Laurel Holliday quoted Nory Emori from Hornall Anderson. The quote was from a letter dated October 14, 2015 ‐ so, clearly a response to the lack of public support from the survey. We wanted to post the letter in full, so you can see what the arguments from the company driving the rebrand were. The full letter, in Word format as provided by the library, is here.
14 October 2015
The Seattle Public Library
Marcellus Turner, City Librarian
Stephen Halsey, Director of Marketing and Online Services
Board of Trustees
Dear MT, Stephen, Trustees,
At the beginning of this project, we heard repeatedly that “now is the time to be bold.” The Seattle Public Library has a stable leadership team, is well funded, and has strong support from the community. The time for change is now because people still think a library is about books and magazines, but the library is so much more.
Technology is changing the way people think of books, information, and access to them. The demographics of Seattle are changing, especially at both ends of the economic spectrum, and those new to the city have no history with SPL. The Seattle Public Library cannot simply say it is not “a repository for books” but must shift people’s awareness from being all about books to fulfilling its mission of bringing people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. For the library to remain relevant, this must be seen and felt by the staff, supporters, patrons, and the community. This is what a brand is, not a logo or a statement, but a consistent experience founded on a set of values. Shifting a mission to reality takes tenacity, bravery, and a wholehearted belief in the necessity for change. Henry Ford famously said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” The public is not able to envision the future; it must be led.
In more recent times, think about the organizations that stayed the course, when signals all around them indicated it was time to change: Kodak. Blockbuster. They rested on the laurels of their historical success, banking on the stability of the status quo, until they found themselves too far behind the curve to regain their footing. Then there are the visionaries who see possibilities long before others see a need. When people still bought books at bookstores, Amazon started as an online bookstore. Now, any company that delivers anything – from items, to content, to the delivery services themselves – are at risk. When people could only complain about taxis, Uber came along and changed the expectation and value of an on-demand car service.
The most critical element is leadership with vision. Just as people would have told Ford they wanted a faster horse, so people are telling you to just buy more books. This is not a directive; rather, it is an indication that people do not yet see the vision for what libraries can be. You have, at this moment, the opportunity to shift the identity of the library, to tell people why you do what you do, and why it matters to them. Now is the time to be bold.
With great admiration and respect,
Nory Emori, and your Hornall Anderson team
This Friday is your last chance to apply for the Jack Straw Writers Program, which this year is being curated by awesome Seattle poet and novelist Karen Finneyfrock. It's a great opportunity for writers at the beginning of their career:
Established and emerging artists working in any discipline or genre may apply to any one of the residency programs offered. Artists living outside of the Puget Sound region may apply, but should be aware that expenses for travel, lodging, etc. are not included in the award. Literary groups applying to the Writers Program are limited to three persons.
Deadlines are also closing this Friday for the Jack Straw Artist Support Program, which is a great resource for writers who need help professionally recording their own work. Past recipients of this award include Seattle writers Shin Yu Pai, Anna Balint, Imani Sims, and Storme Webber.
Jack Straw is an amazing resource for emerging and established writers in Seattle. It teaches writers to present and preserve their work in exciting ways, and it also advocates tirelessly for those writers through readings and events and anthologies. If you're a writer in Seattle and you haven't applied for a Jack Straw program, you're missing a huge opportunity.
Had she lived, Sylvia Plath would have been 83 years old today. If you're in the mood, maybe stop by this Brainpickings post and listen to Plath share her thoughts on poetry. As for me, it's a sad occasion; I tend to spend the day thinking about all the work that never made it to the page.
If Plath's birthday reminds you of all the great writing by women that the world never got to read, I'd encourage you to pick up Kate Zambreno's excellent book Heroines, which serves as a celebration of (and lament for) all the women of literature who have been forgotten, or undervalued, or unrecognized. Maybe we should think about making Plath's birthday an official holiday, to remember and to celebrate those voices.
We have already recommended the Literary Mixer at the Hideout as tonight's must-attend book event, and for good reason: I've attended this event on multiple occasions and it's always a lot of fun. But we're always happy to hear a second opinion, especially when it comes from a trusted source, like SRoB reader Aaron Brethorst, who writes in on Twitter:
The event Brethorst is linking to is an appearance by the debut novelist Sigal Samuel, who will be reading from her novel The Mystics of Mile End at University Book Store. The interview with the Calgary Herald makes Mile End sound fascinating — a family story, a study of religion, a multi-perspective narrative.
The fact is, any given night in Seattle will provide an overwhelming assortment of incredible literary events. We can't recommend them all. But we do love hearing from our readers — on Twitter, on Facebook, through email — and we take their recommendations seriously. If you're not feeling social enough for the Literary Mixer event tonight, you should absolutely make your way to University Book Store. Thanks, Aaron, for the tip!
Rushing toward the ocean tongue
Along the lip of land
I am what my friends feared
Grit traded in for grains of sand
My city soil scattered in Northwest winds
Twice despised for behavior unbecoming—
Unable to leave the cascade light
Unwilling to claim the shadowed coo of pigeon’s songs as my only note.
Busy day here, at the Seattle Review of Books. First, we published a piece by Laurel Holliday, Library Board scrambles for special meeting on rebranding issue; City Hall reacts, looking at the board's apparent cold-feet over the rebranding effort.
Then, we talked to the man behind the rebranding effort himself, City Librarian Marcellus Turner, and made sure that he had a chance to defend his work, in his own words (which, to our ears, read like little more than corporate-esque non-speak).
Finally, we published our own open letter to the Seattle Public Library Board, about our alarm, after talking to many SPL employees, that they feel the direction their leadership has taken actively opposes them and their interests.
Assuming no meeting happens before, on Wednesday, October 28 at 5:00pm on the 4th floor of the Central Library, the board will meet. Show up, if you agree with us. Show up, and before then write to the board and let them know your feelings on the matter. Let them know if, like us, you want the library to be clear in its mandate of supporting librarians and books. Let us make sure they hear us loud and clear.
President Fujiwara and the Seattle Public Library’s Board of Trustees,
As Laurel Holliday reported for the Seattle Review of Books last week, public response to Seattle Public Library’s proposed rebranding campaign has been overwhelmingly negative. In fact, Holliday reports the response has been so negative that the board appears likely to kill the rebranding plan at or before their public meeting on Wednesday.
This is for the best. The rebranding was ill-considered, and it was presented to the public in an arrogant, unprofessional way. SPL librarians were not warned about the rebranding effort in advance, so they were unprepared when the angry public demanded answers. Curiously, the rebranding survey was only available online, so low-income patrons and the elderly had limited access to it. (Why would a library with branches all over the city not make printed copies of the rebranding survey available to the patrons who use libraries most? Do they not care what those patrons have to say?) Further, it was only available in English, which kept thousands of patrons’ voices out of the discussion. This last point is especially egregious because immigrant populations rely on the library for support as they make Seattle their home. They were given no voice in this discussion.
But the rebranding is not the reason for this open letter. As we have previously mentioned, we are not opposed to organizations spending money on their branding. Branding is important; it’s how organizations explain themselves to the world. The problem is, this botched attempt at rebranding perhaps honestly communicates more about the state of Seattle Public Library than the Board may have intended. The reason the response to this rebranding study was so visceral is that the city of Seattle was horrified to learn that this rebranding campaign might possibly identify the true spirit of SPL management—its incompetence; its tone-deaf corporate speak; and its utter lack of respect for patrons, librarians and literature.
Over the last two weeks, we have interviewed a number of your employees — librarians, management and support staff — about Seattle Public Library. All of the employees requested anonymity for fear of retribution. This is obviously not optimal, because it means we can’t use the personal details they gave us in this letter. But taken in aggregate, these many individual stories meld into a portrait of an organization that has completely lost sight of its mission.
They told us about an SPL that is freighted down with many layers of unnecessary middle management but which still somehow doesn’t communicate with its ground-level employees. They told us about an SPL that creates a hostile work environment for librarians; that narrowly focuses on white, middle-class patrons at the expense of minorities and underprivileged populations; that is at best uninterested or at worst openly hostile to its role as a champion of literature and culture on the behalf of the people of Seattle.
Worse, SPL employees have indicated to us that they have absolutely no confidence in City Librarian Marcellus Turner. More than one employee described Turner to us as actively “anti-book.” On the few occasions when Turner was made available to librarians for discussion, we were informed that Turner often could not identify which book he was currently reading, at least once demurring that he was more of a magazine person.
The fact is, not every librarian loves reading. That’s okay. We talked with several SPL employees who admitted to reading much less than what the public would expect them to. But the City Librarian position is generally expected to be an advocate for books and reading. For the figurehead of our city’s library system to be visibly uncomfortable when asked about books is an untenable situation.
What happens when you get an at-best tenuous supporter of literature to run a library? You’re handed anti-book policies like Turner’s “Service Priorities” for SPL, which are as follows:
Youth and early learning
Provide Library services that support youth and families in academic success, career readiness and life.
Technology and access
Serve as Seattle's primary point of access to information, lifelong learning, economic development and creative expression through innovative use of technology and digital resources.
Offer Library programs, services and collections that reflect community needs and interests, feature community voices and create meaningful experiences.
Seattle culture and history
Connect our community with our diverse local culture and history through compelling collections, expert assistance, innovative partnerships and engaging programs.
Adapt and energize Library spaces for new uses in keeping with changing services, programs, interests and needs of Library users and the changing way that they use Library spaces.
Did you count all the references to books and literacy and reading in those five priorities? No? That’s because there are no references to books and reading. The closest the Service Priorities come to referring to books is in the reference to preserving Seattle culture and history with “compelling collections.” This is not enough. The people of Seattle want their libraries to be stocked with a vibrant and growing collection of books; anyone who has tried to reserve a popular title from the library only to wind up in the triple-digits on a waiting list understand that SPL does not have enough books to meet demand.
Compare Turner’s Service Priorities to the Strategic Plan instituted by former City Librarian Susan Hildreth, which served as the guiding statement for SPL from 2010 to 2015. Number one on their list of goals and objectives called for SPL to “Fuel Seattle’s Passion for Reading, Personal Growth and Learning” and to “Build community around books.”
By comparison, the contortions that Turner’s SPL will twist itself into in order to not mention reading would be comical if it weren’t so embarrassing. As one SPL employee we interviewed told us, “you wouldn’t expect a business to forsake its top product,” but that’s exactly what Turner’s SPL has done. Last summer, SPL’s popular summer reading program for area children was rebranded as the “Summer of Learning” program. Instead of books, children were presented with iPads. Parents were livid, and understandably so; a program intended to promote literacy was transformed for seemingly no discernible reason and — this is important —without public input.
The unwanted focus on iPads evokes another problem with Turner’s leadership. Our city librarian is trying to frame himself as a forward-thinking technologist who has a vision for SPL, but his policies are hopelessly outdated. Unlike other city government agencies, the library still does not have a mobile-friendly website, for instance. And on any interface, its website is embarrassing, a morass from the bad old days of 2003, a site that obfuscates information rather than disseminates it. This is a situation where Turner’s supposed vision would seem to be useful; why has he not led on this?
Based on the conversations we’ve had with librarians, Turner is too busy actively devaluing the librarians in his employ to do anything useful. Turner’s SPL has continually used volunteer or non-librarian employees to do the work that librarians used to do. (According to librarians we talked with, SPL has even hired some people with library science degrees for non-librarian jobs, which pay roughly a quarter less than librarian positions.) SPL is right now in the process of removing librarians from their role as moderators of book clubs and handing those moderator positions to non-librarian employees, for example.
Perhaps the board and Turner will point to de-escalating circulation numbers as a reason why all these changes are happening. That’s a false lead. The truth is that SPL leadership has modified their collections policy to penalize users: higher interlibrary loan fees, fewer materials allowed for withdrawal at any time, higher late fees. SPL employees believe these changes were made to discourage use of materials, to further the anti-book policies we’re seeing under Turner and the board.
So here’s a riddle for you: if a library is anti-book and anti-librarian, is it still a library? We think the answer is no, and we bet a lot of Seattle agrees with us. The anger you’ve seen in response to the branding survey is evidence that Seattle is not happy with Turner and the Board's leadership. The rebranding issue is a symptom of a much larger problem, and Seattle is slowly coming to realize exactly how deep that problem runs.
Everyone we interviewed said that morale at SPL has never been lower than it is right now. Many of them believe it’s only going to get worse. The worst thing for most of these employees is the sheer feeling of powerlessness that pervades their workdays. They’re trying to introduce their neighbors to resources that can help make Seattle a better place to live, and they’re being thwarted at every turn by the bizarre choices of management — a management that they believe is trying to undermine their very mission statement, to undo all those decades of hard work that they’ve put into SPL. These are good people who are on the front lines — librarians who help kids learn to read and help adults find jobs and help immigrants get the resources they need to become proud Americans. They work on a daily basis with homeless populations, at-risk youth, and people who feel as though society has forgotten about them. And now they feel that their own organization has forgotten about them.
We believe the reaction to the rebranding survey was so vehement and so passionate in part because the people of Seattle, finally, have become aware of what SPL management has done to their library. We believe the people of Seattle, too, feel powerless in the face of all this change. And they’re responding with a raw and righteous anger.
As we understand it, Turner answers to the library board and the library board, basically, answers to no one. The mayor institutes members of the board — we still have a member from the Nickels administration — but aside from some poorly scheduled meetings that are open to public comment, SPL leadership has not really been accountable to the public for years now.
The library is supposed to support and encourage the free dissemination of information, but it’s right now fighting against transparency. Turner is generally not available to his librarians, the public, or the press. Management does not invite or welcome comments from ground-level employees. In the past, SPL Director and Public Disclosure Officer Andra Addison has asked Paul Constant to reveal the names of librarians who spoke to him under condition of anonymity. SPL leadership appears to be encouraging a culture of silence and fear among its employees. This is antithetical to the idea of a public library.
We believe that the people of Seattle would be outraged if they heard just a quarter of the stories we’ve heard over the last two weeks. If these allegations are true — that Turner and the board have propagated an anti-book, anti-librarian agenda in Seattle Public Library — we believe the people of Seattle would demand immediate changes in library leadership. We are pro-information. We are pro-technology. But we love our books, and we love our librarians, and some awkward corporate-speak is not going to convince us otherwise.
Seattle does not want to lose its libraries because a few mediocre managers failed to lead at the moment when their leadership was needed most. We demand change — transparent change — at the top of the organization. If Turner and the Board are not willing to supply that change, we demand new leadership that understands the wishes of the people and knows how to implement our agenda.
SPL cannot keep going down this road to ruination. We love our libraries, and we demand that Seattle Public Library carry the torch of knowledge for generations to come.
Paul Constant and Martin McClellan
Co-founders, the Seattle Review of Books
We're sponsored this week by a very unique book, by a very unique Seattle writer. Esther Altshul Helfgott kept a journal full of insight and poetry, as Alzheimer's first showed its affects in her husband Abe. Her book Dear Alzheimer's is a startling, humane, and insightful look into a difficult time.
You may know Helfgott from her long standing (25 years!) writers reading series It's About Time, held every second Thursday at the Seattle Public Library's Ballard Branch. The list of past readers is a who's-who of Seattle poets and writers, and exactly the sort of Library we're advocating for: one that works with the community to make reading and writing more vibrant.
Of course, sponsors like Helfgott are what allow us to report on issues like the Library, and keep reviews and updates coming your way. It's part of our campaign to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible. Take a look at Helfgott's moving work excerpted on our Sponsorships page — and judge for yourself.
On Wednesday, October 21, I conducted an email interview with Marcellus Turner (interlocuted by SPL Communications Director Andra Addison), and I asked him three questions about the rebranding effort.
Who first proposed rebranding SPL? Why did you come out so strongly in favor of rebranding rather than some other means of obtaining your ends?
I know that once I arrived at The Seattle Public Library, I recognized some areas that needed review, our look and brand being one of them. Libraries around the country are and have been rebranding and refreshing their look and work in relation to the changes that are occurring in our industry and we (SPL) would be remiss if we, too, didn’t look at what is happening with our usage and the impact that these changes are causing.
Rebranding is one element of a comprehensive effort that helps us better serve our vastly diverse city. We also are focused on providing a robust collection and a high level of customer service with our knowledgeable and helpful staff. We have five service priorities guiding us: Youth and Family Learning, Community Engagement, Seattle Culture and History, Technology and Access and Re-imagined Spaces. Collectively, this work helps us reach our goals – providing excellent Library service for the people of Seattle.
How does the proposed new name, logo, and brand statement convince library non-users to become library users? Why not just change programs and services and where and how they are advertised?
Glad to have this question, because in fact, we’ve undertaken many innovative programs and partnerships over the last few years. We are hosting more workshops and events off-site, we’ve carried our materials (books and technology) out into the community through our Books on Bikes and Pop Up Library programs, we’ve revamped our Summer Learning Program and we’ve collaborated with community partners to provide important services to our public, such as Tax Help and Health Care Enrollment. We are also re-imagining our physical libraries to reflect the needs of each community.
This new work allows us to present ourselves differently to a segment of our population that may not be aware of the new resources and assistance we offer. While our traditional role has always been access to information (and mainly through books), technology and innovative programs have broadened access in new ways. The proposed logo, name change and brand statement capture this new direction and reflect our commitment to serve the next generation of users.
Do you think you will have the confidence of the SPL Board of Trustees, patrons and benefactors that might enable you to lead the public as suggested in this comment in a letter from Hornall Anderson Director of Strategy Nory Emori to you: "The public is not able to envision the future. They must be led.”
My job is to show our city all that The Seattle Public Library is and can be. And to that end, we will continue to evaluate and improve our services and seek all opportunities to communicate our value to the public.
Update: 10:57am. Following the post is an email update from Seattle Public Library's Director of Communications, Andra Addison.
The Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees appears to be responding proactively to the barrage of criticism the SPL rebranding initiative has received from patrons, the public, library donors, and the media over the course of the last month. Board members have called for a Special Meeting to vote on the rebranding initiative before their Wednesday, October 28th regularly scheduled meeting which has the branding initiative on the agenda.
On October 17, Trustee Dan Dixon said in an email to Trustees President Theresa Fujiwara:
…I propose that we call a Special Meeting on either Tuesday or Wednesday to resolve the issue. Notwithstanding our published meeting of October 28, we can proceed by giving notice of our intent to meet and the subject. It's my intent that we put this issue behind us quickly for the benefit of all parties and the Library. I believe that we all concur for various reasons that moving forward with a branding campaign is not in our best interests. I also believe as noted in my earlier message that we have heard enough from the public that this decision will be appreciated.
With over 400 comments sent to SPL and the SPL Foundation (not counting social media) about the proposed rebranding, the majority of them highly critical of it, Dixon’s characterization of the public response is understated, but he did go on to propose a specific course of action:
I would propose a motion in three parts to accomplish our resolution of the issue:
- That we formally indicate that we are not moving forward with a branding campaign.
- That we intend to utilize the data derived from our survey and other preliminary work to inform and extend our general Library marketing efforts.
- That we draft a message from the Board of Trustees to Library patrons (and staff) that thanks them for their amazing support and affection for the Library and for their helpful comments during our survey; and that we will not be moving forward with the branding campaign.
Dixon seems very confident that this three-pronged resolution will be passed by the BOT in the proposed Special Meeting, and he has plans for a statement that he wants disseminated shortly after that meeting. His email to Fujiwara continued:
The messaging would go out soon after our special meeting so that our patrons will know and that with respect to the branding campaign it may not be necessary to attend the October 28th meeting.
Dixon’s email is significant for at least two reasons:
In her October 17th email to Dixon, Fujiwara commended him on his proposal and approved his call for the special meeting:
This looks like a good option to me - thoughtful, transparent and deliberate. We are scheduled for both an operations and finance committee meetings on Tuesday so maybe we can substitute or squeeze in a brief special meeting. As long as Gary agrees that we are not violating any public notice procedures, I think we should run this by the other trustees and ask MT to move forward with the logistics.
I truly appreciate the time you have taken to propose these next steps to move us forward and communicate with the public in a timely manner.
Do you want me to follow up with trustees and MT?“
(Gary in Fujiwara’s email is Gary Smith who provides legal counsel to SPL, and MT is Marcellus Turner. The “logistics” are posting the notice of a Special Meeting and its agenda on the SPL website, and notifying the Seattle Times about the meeting twenty-four hours before the meeting occurs.)
Dixon replied with a simple “Yep. That’s why I wanted to run by you first.”
So, if the Board does hold a Special Meeting in advance of their regularly scheduled meeting, what would they stand to gain?
Word about the questionable management of the rebranding project has spread all the way to The City Council and the Mayor’s office. In a meeting with Friends of the Seattle Public Library Board Member Jill Novik and Bill Stafford, member of the Board of the Seattle Public Library Foundation, Chair of the Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries, and Gender Pay Equity Committee, Councilmember Jean Godden raised the issue of rebranding.
According to Novik’s summary of the meeting, Godden “noted that Council is getting a lot of negative feedback from folks about this issue and it is not enhancing the image of SPL.” Novik went on to say, “They also want information from us as to how much full implementation of the rebranding would cost. Although we made it clear that the study was privately funded, Godden's impression is that it might be prudent to table the study for the time being.”
Keep in mind that the Council holds the purse strings for the Library and that the 2016 city budget is so much on their minds right now that they have cancelled nearly all committee meetings for weeks in order to work their way through the decisions they must make about the budget. In the 2015 budget, SPL garnered nearly sixty-nine million dollars of public money. Next year’s budget will likely be amended and approved by the Council in late November. Until then, it remains to be seen if SPL will be financially impacted by the branding fallout.
City Council Candidate Tammy Morales spoke out to Mayor Murray and the City Council on her campaign website where she addressed the rebranding endeavor and The Seattle Public Library’s poor stewardship of library funds:
“What an offensive waste of money,” she called the rebranding project. "Why is the Seattle Public Library approving this kind of spending? And where are the Mayor and Council on all this? …That the money is reportedly coming from the Seattle Library Foundation is no excuse. This effort could not have been started without the explicit approval of the Library Director&hellip. I love the Seattle Public Library and their awesome employees. But their leadership is letting them down.”
On the plus side for SPL, yesterday the Library did an amazing (or an incredibly tonedeaf) thing. They posted this excerpt from Alberto Manguel’s New York Times October 23rd Op-Ed, “Reinventing the Library” on SPL’s Facebook page:
It is in the nature of libraries to adapt to changing circumstances and threats, and all libraries exist in constant danger of being destroyed by war, vermin, fire, water or the idiocies of bureaucracy.
But today, the principal danger facing libraries comes not from threats like these but from ill-considered changes that may cause libraries to lose their defining triple role: as preservers of the memory of our society, as providers of the accounts of our experience and the tools to navigate them — and as symbols of our identity.
“Ill-considered changes” would be an apt characterization of SPL’s rebranding effort. Manguel’s op-ed provides a sweeping view of libraries in history and how their function has changed over time. Now, when librarians, staff, and facilities are called upon for a myriad of social services ranging from baby sitting, to attending to the needs of homeless patrons, to helping the unemployed find jobs, and even providing medical care to some, Manguel asserts that books must remain at the core of libraries’ mission as they have been throughout history.
To their credit, SPL provided a link to the full text of this exquisitely written op-ed. I wonder if posting it on SPL’s Facebook page was a blunder or a beautiful act of rebranding sabotage carried out by a well-intentioned, book-loving librarian.
Today we're dedicating the Seattle Review of Books to the Seattle Public Library, and City Librarian Marcellus Turner's proposed re-branding. We even published Paul's normal Monday Week in Readings post last night, to keep our focus.
We're publishing three pieces today on the topic:
We are strongly committed to the idea that best book city in the world to have the strongest library system in the world. Read along with us today, and take the time to let your opinions be known. Write the library board an email today.
MONDAY Ada’s Technical Books kicks off our week in events with NASA scientist Les Johnson, who will be discussing his book Harvesting Space for a Greener Earth...And Beyond! Press materials promise that Johnson will discuss “how we can use space resources to help solve energy and environmental problems on Earth while simultaneously putting in place the infrastructure to allow sustained exploration of Mars.” Now that you've seen The Martian and you're all stressed about what would happen if you get trapped on Mars by yourself, you should probably start preparing for just that eventuality.
TUESDAY The October Literary Mixer is happening at the Hideout. Here’s the simple premise: bring a book. Buy a drink. Talk to someone about the book they brought. Prepare to talk about the book you brought. That’s it! Book chat and booze is just about the best way to spend a fall evening.
WEDNESDAY A lively week of Short Run Comix & Arts Festival programming kicks off at the Capitol Hill Branch of Seattle Public Library, in the form of an artist talk by East Coast cartoonists Charles Forsman and Melissa Mendes. Short Run organizers say that Mendes and Forsman will discuss “their work and influences, self-publishing, pushing through mental troubles, printing comics on the cheap, and organizing the Oily Comics publishing company and subscription service.”
(And this kind of flies in the face of this column’s mandate to choose one event for every day of the week, but Tavi Gevinson is reading at University Book Store tonight, too. If you know any teenage girls, you should definitely bring them to this event and watch the world open up for them.)
THURSDAY Before you ask: Seattle Arts & Lectures’s Ta-Nehisi Coates reading has long since sold out. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, you’re out of luck. It’s a shame, too, because he’s written a great book that will undoubtedly be seen as a classic in the years ahead.
Instead, visit the central branch of Seattle Public Library to join a community discussion about gun violence. This is so important. It feels as though we’ve recently turned a corner on gun violence in America; average Americans are fed up at the sickening regularity of mass shootings, and it’s time to take action. We can only do that by talking, and taking stock, and coming together as a community.
FRIDAY Celebrate Short Run Eve at Fantagraphics Bookstore in Georgetown for the Marathon III art show and pre-festival reception. A nice mix of Seattle and national talent will present work, including Jim Woodring, Bruce Bickford, Charles Forsman, and Melissa Mendes. Short Run also presents the recipient of their Dash Grant prize for self-publishing cartoonists, Krish Raghav, at this show. Plus, there’ll be music by Lisa Prank.
SATURDAY The Short Run Comix & Art Festival finally arrives, from 11 to 6 at Fisher Pavillion. Wander around, check out the tables full of books by small-press publishers, cartoonists, and artists. Meet new people, find a new artist to fall in love with, and visit with some old friends.
SUNDAY Hugo House welcomes publisher great weather for MEDIA. They’ll be presenting Before Passing, an anthology of new poetry and short fiction from Toni La Ree Bennett, Wil Gibson, Thomas Hanchett, David Lawton, Richard Loranger, Mary Mackey, Jane Ormerod, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Close out your week by welcoming some new writers to the stage.
George Saunders in the New Yorker on learning to write, and the writing instructors he learned from.
Doug gets an unkind review. We are worried. Will one of us dopily bring it up in workshop? We don’t. Doug does. Right off the bat. He wants to talk about it, because he feels there might be something in it for us. The talk he gives us is beautiful, honest, courageous, totally generous. He shows us where the reviewer was wrong—but also where the reviewer might have gotten it right. Doug talks about the importance of being able to extract the useful bits from even a hurtful review: this is important, because it will make the next book better. He talks about the fact that it was hard for him to get up this morning after that review and write, but that he did it anyway. He’s in it for the long haul, we can see. He’s a fighter, and that’s what we must become too: we have to learn to honor our craft by refusing to be beaten, by remaining open, by treating every single thing that happens to us, good or bad, as one more lesson on the longer path.
We liked Doug before this. Now we love him.
Great interview with Terry Gross in the New York Times:
The interview wish is as old as the form itself. Journalistic interviews in the United States increasingly began to appear in the 1860s. Before that, when reporters talked to people, they typically didn’t quote them. Once interviewing started, it became a craze. It had its own practitioners, often women, who were thought to be better at drawing people out. Henry James’s journalists were almost all "interviewers," and his characters, like Selah Tarrant in "The Bostonians," crave their scrutiny: "The wish of his soul was that he might be interviewed," James wrote.
The Kingston University Archives and Special Collections is revealing some of its gems in advance of its 25th anniversary. Like, Iris Murdoch's notes from a lecture by Jean Paul Satre:
The notebook contains Murdoch’s extensive notes made at the lecture, which are a fascinating insight into Sartre’s philosophy and Murdoch’s views on it at the time. The notebook is also unique as while we know Murdoch made notes on the writings of other philosophers, we are not aware of any others surviving taken from a lecture given by the philosopher themselves. The rear of the notebook is filled with notes that Murdoch made after reading many of Jean Paul Sartre’s books- Murdoch’s copies of which are also held in the Iris Murdoch Oxford Library, one bearing a personal message to Murdoch from Sartre himself.
It must be artifact day today for the Sunday Post. Here's Tolkien's annotated map, found inside a book that belonged to illustrator Pauline Baynes, who drew the maps for Tolkien.
The map was found loose in a copy of the acclaimed illustrator Pauline Baynes’ copy of The Lord of the Rings. Baynes had removed the map from another edition of the novel as she began work on her own colour Map of Middle-earth for Tolkien, which would go on to be published by Allen & Unwin in 1970. Tolkien himself had then copiously annotated it in green ink and pencil, with Baynes adding her own notes to the document while she worked.
As a rule, the Sunday Post does not self-link to the Seattle Review of Books, but this piece about the public response to the City Librarian Marcellus Turner's plan for rebranding is too important to ignore. The board votes on Wednesday about this plan — if you want to have a say in the future of your library, now is the time to take action and write the board. Get more context in this article we published last Wednesday, by Laurel Holliday.