New Library Opens in Seattle

one of the rooms in new Folio Library

A large stunning space within Seattle’s Pike Place Market is now graced by Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum, a membership-based library. Located on the top floor of a Market building at 1st Ave. and Pike Street, the library features book-laden shelves, comfortable reading chairs, work tables for members’ own writing projects, and – drumroll please – smashing views of Elliott Bay.

Members can check out books for 60 days. And there are lots of them, more than 20,000, many having come from lovingly collected private collections. This being the 21st century, there’s wi-fi. Coffee and tea can be poured for a dollar a cup. Folio will also offer programs to the public such as book discussion groups and author readings. Meeting spaces can be rented.

Twenty-one leading North American cities boast nonprofit membership libraries like Seattle’s Folio. Invented by Ben Franklin in 1731, membership libraries served as America’s first public libraries, open to all and providing ready access to fine books. They flourished in hundreds of cities and helped create the public library movement.

Today these institutions provide an active home for many book collections, previously private, an ideal workspace for writers and researchers, and a congenial venue for stimulating public programs and discussion groups. Athenaeums help anchor the literary and intellectual communities of their cities.

If this is starting to sound a little too dry and, well, book-dusty, you should know that Seattle’s newest library is à la mode, shading into a contemporary high-tech-inflected phenomenon known as co-working spaces. WeWork is a national organization which has about ten such locations around Seattle. Featuring coffee, craft beer, printers and I.T. support in addition to office spaces, rent runs $300 to $700 a month. Another start-up called Spacious repurposes idle daytime space in restaurants for office use, which reverts to restaurant space in the evenings. Spacious has footprints in New York and San Francisco so far; their rents start at $100 per month. Of course we can’t forget that ubiquitous co-working space with deep roots in Seattle, the one that goes by the name of Starbucks.

Folio Library’s membership rates are $10 per month or $125 per year for individuals. A family rate covering all members in a household is $200 per year. Compared to the cost of today’s trendy co-working spaces, which may include beer but do not include any items produced by Johannes Gutenberg’s high-tech 15th century invention, Folio Library is a heck of a deal.

Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum was founded by serial civic entrepreneur David Brewster. He has been the driving force behind such regional assets as SeattleWeekly newspaper, Town Hall, and Crosscut online newspaper. David, who once rented a writer’s office at Pike Place Market, describes Folio as “a quiet perch in the heart of the Market; a place that celebrates physical books, great writing, and making interesting new friends.” As David gave me a tour this week, that description seemed on the mark. (While there I bumped into an actor/writer/director, Andrew Tribolini, who has performed in one of my plays.)

A grand opening is being held at the library next Wednesday evening, July 18, 4:00 to 7:00 pm. This free celebration is an opportunity to explore the library’s collections, check out the beautifully appointed reading rooms, enjoy the views and light refreshments, meet Folio’s board, staff and members, and, who knows, perhaps even join. I already did.

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