The new library: A cafe and other sad changes

Food amongst the books.

I once was a library junkie.  I used to visit Phoenix’s main library almost everyday.   My addiction began about 22 years ago and it lasted about a decade.   

It ended the day I bought a PC and went online for the first time.  Almost everything the library had I could get on the computer.  And with the search engines I could get it easier and faster.  I still go back to the library to read microfilm of old newspapers and borrow books about a half-dozen times a year. 

I made a rare appearance there late last week to check out a biography of the mystery writer, Jim Thompson.  But I also wanted to see one of the many other changes that have occurred since the library moved from its warm and friendly confines many years ago to the larger and colder facility two blocks south.  

A recent look inside the Open Book Cafe

I wanted to visit the Open Book Cafe.  That it opened last December should give a hint how infrequently I step into the library anymore.  

 The cafe is located on the first floor inside the west entrance, near the large bins where the homeless are required to leave their heavy bags. 

The Open Book is not my idea of a cafe.  It is more like a buffet, strictly self-serve.  You walk down a long line of soda dispensers and cases filled with candy and deli sandwiches and take your choices to a cash register. 

The cafe's patio a desolate place in summer

I did not expect much.  But still I was disappointed.  It was a small uninviting place with uncomfortable plastic chairs and glass tables.  There is a glass window door at one end leading outside to a patio.  It was hot, June in the desert, and therefore no one sat out there. 

I purchased a cup of tasteless regular coffee for $1.50.  That’s a dime more than I pay at the Starbucks down the street.  I couldn’t get out of there soon enough. 

On the way up on the elevator to the fifth floor where the biographies are shelved,  I looked out through the glass enclosure and the rising landscape.  It saddened me to see it and be reminded of the changes libraries have undergone in less than a quarter of a century.  

Public computers line up in rows and usually with a waiting list

Libraries serve a younger crowd now and where shelves of books once stood there are rows of computers.  There is a place strictly for teens on the fourth floor.  Years ago I wanted to just take a peek inside but was turned back.   And the place is noisier.  I can actually remember when a librarian had the nerve to whisper, “ssssh.”

The big reading room on the top floor was nearly vacant as usual.  Some days I’ve seen only one librarian up there.  I’m sure the long rows of empty desks will soon be replaced by more computers. 

I once knew by name almost every librarian here but mostly they are all gone, moved out to the branches or jobs phased out by the computer.   Those who saw it coming have switched to other careers I suppose. 

Now when I visit, I do not linger.  I’m in and out.  This place looks less and less like the traditional library each time I enter. 

The main Phoenix Library, as far as I’m concerned, is nothing more than an ugly monument to the death of reading books and doing research.  But I admit the young and newer generations may find it a wonderful place.


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