The Walker’s “reading room” vs. your local library

So I was chatting with Steve Seel and Jill Riley over on 89.3 The Current this morning, as I do each Thursday morning, talking about events coming up this weekend.

I mentioned, among other things, the Walker Art Center’s “Reading Room” project, which I wrote about here yesterday. They’re basically offering people a place to unplug and read, undisturbed.

Steve Seel looked at me wryly and said, “yes we used to have those – they were called libraries.”


St. Paul Central Library in downtown St. Paul (MPR Photo/Tim Nelson)

So what is the difference between the Walker’s reading room and a library?

Project creator Chris Fischbach explains it this way:

Libraries aren’t quiet, and are not primarily used for reading books by most people. Also you are not asked to turn off your phone at the library, or to unplug. Reading Room is inspired by libraries. Or maybe it’s what libraries used to be.

And sure enough, Current listener Alyssa Prater wrote in to back up Fischbach’s premise:

I work for a Regional Library system, and often comment that the irony of my job is I have no time to read. At any rate, I visit each of our 14 Branch Locations on a monthly basis; and have to say some libraries are no longer quiet places to read. The concept of a quiet place to unplug and just read, might be just what we all need!

So what are libraries there for these days? A while back I reported on their changing role in communities, which has led them to be less about books, and more about people.


    I would be absolutely lost without my library.

    I’ve amassed hundreds of books in my 70 years and had to let most of them go. In my remaining time on this globe, the wonderful library here in Ames, Iowa, takes care of my addiction.

  • Michael Flores

    While Libraries may not be the reading rooms they once were, they are more important than ever. In difficult economic times, such as the one we are in now, the libraries are used more than ever. Unemployment needs to be done online, so public computer use at the libraries is up. Internet access falls in the same category, as people have to turn off their internet access or need help job searching online, where do they go? They go to their public library. So while funds are cut and looked over, something to think about is the fact that this economic trend creates more of a drive to the library.

  • Martha Malan

    Libraries could do much to regain their desirability as places to read by banning cellphone ringing and talking.