Judging a Bibliothèque by its Bathroom

Marcellus Turner
City Librarian
The Seattle Public Library
1000 Fourth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104-1109

Dear Mr. Turner:

Well, I can see why you maintain a continuous recruitment process for Library Associates I and II, positions that came to my attention after one of your Central Branch library staff curtailed my job search by denying me access to the Job Resource computers specifically provided for job searching. In direct defiance of your five key service priorities and the mission statement of Seattle Public Library, she whiningly insisted that I should not follow the first recommendation of human resources professionals worldwide: research firms and write cover letters matching the candidate’s skills specific to the employers’ goals. From that experience, it seems to me that the library hosts yet another WorkSource Connection Site that prioritizes computer work stations empty of human beings over the human beings attempting to work at finding work. Do you want your team prioritizing the demands of patrons who choose to spend their time in the Mixing Chamber passively consuming pornography and playing first-person shooter video games, or would you prefer to staff our library with personnel expert in listening to and understanding customer concerns, assessing available options, and responding accurately and appropriately within the framework of the library’s policies and procedures?

With a graduate degree and over twenty years of experience priding myself on my level of service to internal peers, colleagues, students, and external public customers, I exceed the minimum qualifications of the position, and thank you in advance for reciprocating the dignity of an individually crafted response to this cover letter of interest helping you attain your service goals for Seattle Public Library.

Even before I first moved to Washington’s urban mecca in search of work, I’d wanted to explore Seattle Central Library, an icon of postmodern architecture. Central has become to me part living room, and part Koolhaas-designed office space, my favorite building in all of Seattle. When I still lived in an apartment, Central was where I brought out-of-town visitors before any other destination. I even Skyped a faculty interview in the Red Hall one afternoon when it was too rainy to access wifi from Seattle Center with the Space Needle in the background, just to give a campus across the nation a glimpse of Seattle:

red hall

red hall at seattle central library

The day before your current staff denied me access to Job Resource computers, I had sacrificed my job search time – right now severely limited to the availability of publicly accessible computers – to assist a fellow patron as he struggled to learn Excel on that same row of Job Resource computers, which, if you apply the same standard of limitations that your staff applied to me before she curtailed my cover-letter-writing, could be described as a professional development but not direct job-seeking activity. In the midst of submitting feedback of my interaction with your discourteous staff via your online form fields, another patron mistook me for staff and sought my assistance to locate sneezing tissues. Perhaps I seem more approachable or professional than some of your current staff members?

Your current Downtown Regional Manager’s email reply avoids satisfactorily resolving the conflict while citing yet again institutional policy, all the while repeating herself every other sentence and contradicting SPL’s mission and service priority goals:


Of course your computer system is already programmed to limit job-seeking to two hours per day to encourage courteous sharing of limited resources, so the question becomes, why, in the high-tech city of Seattle, are you paying human beings to do the job that computers already perform better and more efficiently? Think how many more books or other resources the library could purchase if staff stopped attempting to do what they are not qualified to do: set job seekers’ priorities.

Meanwhile, Adobe Customer Care has been much more responsive in troubleshooting via Twitter ongoing issues with the library’s Creative Cloud access via the general use computers throughout SPL’s various branches than @SPLBuzz or your tech staff at Central who assure me that other library patrons do not use Adobe’s software. (Perhaps because the library’s copies are not functioning properly on your Microsoft Windows machines? Or because 90 minutes per day is inadequate work time for producing visual content?)

Hopefully your behind-the-scenes tech support will continue to follow through, though I have yet to see any evidence of that. From my years of experience ever increasing my tech skills coincident with my administrative duties supporting the research sciences in Utah and a public water utility in Portland and to my surprise only learning upon my move to the high-tech city of Seattle that earning a living as a web designer does not necessarily mean that you write your own code, if I had access to an admin password I could troubleshoot much more effectively and efficiently, working my way through the Mixing Chamber’s computer pasture one machine at a time. Or perhaps you would prefer to utilize my broad range of skills toward tutoring other staff on healthy communication, conflict resolution, and maximizing use of 21st century tools?

Throughout my post-Great Recession years of job-seeking, nearly every time I’ve looked for reading material in Central’s stacks, I’ve automatically alpha-sorted poorly filed books, e.g., Frederick and Steve do not play in the same ballpark as Donald Barthelme, thus should not be comingled on the shelves. For all of her attributes, Kay Boyle is no T. Coraghessan, whose ear for language and storytelling is so keen that I cringed with embarrassment for Seattle when Central Library’s automated closing times disrupted his reading in the Microsoft Auditorium. Next up I’d like to tackle Central’s collection of DVDs as well as maybe design a more effective and less obtrusive labeling system for both music and film discs, but perhaps you could respect my efforts with a living wage before I get started on those projects? In a small city working so hard to be urbane, maybe more of Seattle’s citizens would appreciate sorting television series separate from Hollywood movies separate again from foreign and indie filmmakers worth watching?

My previous experience working in a library setting has been limited so far to academic libraries, combing the movable stacks of the University of Utah health sciences library in search of citations in the days when PubMed and Medline were still accessed via Telnet instead of a visual web browser, setting type by hand and running the antique printing presses in their Marriott Library’s Book Arts studio, and later introducing my university students to the dusty, ill-used stacks at the University of Idaho in hopes of encouraging deeper engagement in their learning by providing guided context not available via the world wide web. I prefer Library of Congress to Dewey, but I can adapt. My fine press work is held in Special Collections in two states, has exhibited throughout the American West as far east as Chicago, and was sold to help keep open the Great Recession-damaged doors of Portland’s Multnomah County library.

Happy to flex my work schedule to library hours and special events and locations at all branches throughout Seattle. While none of the neighborhood locations can – or should – compare to Central, the Carnegie building at the top of my former neighborhood of Queen Anne still holds a soft spot in my heart, the Douglass-Truth remodel is a community gem, Montlake another example of good design sensitive to its surrounding neighborhood, and the Capitol Hill branch so conveniently located behind the Broadway Market, with that property only missing an outdoor seating patio or garden to improve it. Also would be curious to know what the architect was thinking by placing the restrooms on a narrow mezzanine accessible only via doorbell and staff buzzing admittance? Such drama for such a humble bodily function. (Should I take a bow after, or merely exit stage left?)

While I have not maintained mes Français beyond high school, Spanish limited to growing up gringo amidst the arroyos and the mesas of the southwestern United States, and know only enough Swahili to know that my name translates to “yesterday,” in my experience, attentive listening and treating all people with what I consider to be basic human dignity goes a long way toward communicating across languages.

To your staff I add a wealth of shipping and receiving, merchandise handling, and inventory tracking experience, from my 2008 stationery product start-up, to designing databases to better track lab supplies and capital equipment ordering and maintenance, and very early in my work history, I learned much from the elite team at Neiman-Marcus, where gift-wrapping was located adjacent to its docks.

Asking questions, or dialogue, always better communicates than dictatorial commands. A few examples of healthy communication that your Mixing Chamber staff might have tried:

  1. “These computers are limited to job searching. May I help you find an available computer elsewhere in our Mixing Chamber?” or
  2. “May I assist with your job search?” or better still
  3. “Are you looking for work?”

Rather than your staff independently deciding what does or does not constitute job-seeking activity in the 21st century, using 21st century media, how about if they simply inquire if patrons are seeking work? Then your library associates do not need to individually decide for themselves whether or not Internet research or social media interactions are valid job seeking activities, not to mention skills demanded by many 21st century employers. Immature staff do not need to burden themselves with setting priorities for job seekers who may decide two hours networking via Twitter or LinkedIn are the best use of our job-seeking time. Further, as you can see from my résumé that I maintain in InDesign, the Job Resource computers are not useful for updating and exporting the file as an interactive PDF, because Microsoft Office is not intended to provide professional design tools.

Back at the Job Resource computers in the midst of writing this letter, I could not help but overhear interaction between another staff member and another job seeker. Staff encouraged patron to switch computers to use the professional version of Adobe Acrobat to retroactively remove a blank page that Word’s PDF converter inserted into her résumé. While that might be sound advice for a patron already well-versed in professional design software, that patron left the Job Resource station grumbling, in near tears, when staff avoided providing a problem-solving answer to her entirely reasonable question:

“If these computers are supposed to be for job searching, then why are they not installed with job resource software?”

Excellent patron feedback unlikely to ever reach your ears, as another of your current staff provided a dismissive and patronizing response. More research needed, but in my brief visual analysis of the WorkSource web presence and my experience with similar vendors privately contracted with other states, better question to solve the problem: which legislators’ bank accounts were fattened before or after signing contracts with a private vendor who provides no service not already available online and for free, 24/7/365, or for however many hours the poorest of Seattle’s citizens are able to wrangle job searching time?

Which is not to say I have not enjoyed courteous and responsive communications with your staff: I owe a debt of gratitude to one of your associates in fiction, for introducing me to the work of Lydia Davis and Mary Robison. Recently returning to Seattle, I nearly hugged Jamie, who frequently works the Fifth Avenue entrance desk, his face still familiar from issuing my first-ever Seattle Public Library card. Likewise, Chris Higashi might be surprised to learn that her face seems as near and dear as an old friend, from the many events I have attended where she has introduced the speakers in her tireless work to create more readers in our community in our era of vigorously competitive media.

From that very sharp – was that very pale blue or very pale mint green? – almost-white seersucker suit that you wore to your inaugural library function, the perfect foil for the semi-darkness of the Microsoft Auditorium, you must surely recognize the value of good design, or the style with which library policies are implemented or communicated to the public. The graphic design communicating to both external and internal audiences, both in virtual and architectural space, took a sharp nosedive after Bruce Mau and Ann Hamilton left the building:

spl bathroom signage

seattle public library vernacular graphic design (edited)

Better graphic design solution, instead of the library always saying NO to its poorest patrons, how about finding YESes? Perhaps provide maps to area resources for each of these problems? Since you must limit access to computers to serve the greatest number of library patrons, how about implementing policy in a style that corresponds to the service priorities of Seattle Public Library, by prioritizing job-seeking computers to the poorest of the poor, or the longest unemployed? Your current manager’s solution only communicates her struggles with multitasking, setting priorities, and listening to her clients, leaving the library in the somewhat awkward position of supporting porn and other forms of violence over contributions to healthy community. What better location to help Seattleites learn healthy communication skills than downtown Seattle’s living room?

Thank you for supporting my efforts toward transparency in human resources by asking questions or providing feedback in comments below. How may I further help you assist your goals?


Jana Brubaker


2 thoughts on “Judging a Bibliothèque by its Bathroom

  1. Pingback: Resetting Your Moral Compass | journal6other

  2. Pingback: One person denied access to law school because of the absolute inability to pay for the LSAT | journal6other

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