Columbia City library reopens
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
So Shamsu Said was relieved yesterday to see the neighborhood library back in business, just in time for the start of school.
"It's a good study-habit place," said Shamsu, 14, who will be a freshman this year at Seattle Preparatory School. "Everyone respects you and your study time."
With its hanging lamps and vaulted ceilings, the library branch in Columbia City reopened yesterday after a year of renovations, drawing hundreds of residents back into a building loved for its historic look. The brick library is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of several landmark Carnegie libraries in Seattle.
Readers came from across the city and around the corner to celebrate the renovated library, the 12th in Seattle to get a makeover since voters approved the Libraries for All building program in 1998. The $196.4 million bond measure was designed to pay for improvements to all 22 existing branches, build new branches in underserved areas and construct a new Central Library.
"They're one of our favorite things in the city, the libraries," said Patti Cooke-Tassone, 45, of West Seattle, who came with her family yesterday.
The Columbia Branch Library, which opened in 1915, serves one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods, a mix of all incomes, cultures and colors in the South End. Its librarians are fluent in several languages. Its updated book collection includes materials in Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese, Somali, Tagalog and Oromo, Amharic and Tigrinya — the latter three languages spoken in Ethiopia.
As part of a new mixed-media exhibit, the faces of library patrons smiled from photographs on top of each bookcase in the library. Many portraits were taken at the Refugee Women's Alliance, a few blocks away. Each color image was enlarged and framed, with a word written in the language of the subject. "Understanding" was written in Russian. "Resonance" was written in Vietnamese.
"You have folks who may not necessarily encounter each other, coming together here," said acting branch manager Valerie Garrett-Turner.
The renovations have doubled the size of the library to 12,420 square feet, setting rooms aside for community meetings and quiet study. The number of computers has increased to 24, and about 5,000 more books have given the library's collection a boost.
Patrons yesterday said they were particularly impressed by the way the historic look was preserved — and, in some cases, polished. The addition kept to the same architecture but provided more light. Tall windows on each wall give readers a view of the park behind the library.
Browsing through the bookcases, Darwit Mariam said he was surprised to see how spacious the library had become. Mariam, 16, has visited the library for years, sometimes to study, sometimes to find some peace.
"It's quiet, so I get some time alone," said Mariam, who will attend Christian Faith School this year. "Phone's not ringing, people not bothering you."
As readers of all ages bustled around him, Mauricio Martinez sat in a corner chair, his head bent over a book. He marveled at the resources and the architecture that came with his neighborhood library. He described it as a gift, particularly for children from struggling families.
"What better thing to give you self-esteem than reading," said Martinez, 38. "Not to be corny, but it's pretty magical."
Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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