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.”

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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.