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It is noon of a summer Sunday and I have gone to San Jose to visit the future at its source. At the corner of two main streets the state university and the town have undertaken an experiment: they have mated two animals to create a third. The making of hybrids is always a gamble, as any rose fancier knows; quite a few are beautiful, others simply useless, but risk has never stopped the breeders, and we have gardens of beauty to thank for their efforts.
The town and the state college now have the same library. This is a new idea, and certainly a novel one upon which to expend considerable millions of dollars. The Martin Luther King library will function as the main library for San Jose State University and for the City of San Jose, opening very soon to these mixed constituencies.A reconnaissance of the place reveals that the critics were correct in their praise of the building, which is spacious, airy, well appointed and very handsome, after the fashion of modern spaces now, most of which seem attempts to bring warmth to ultra-modern dÃ©cor; if I had to make a phrase I'd call the design Star Trek meets Borders Books.
The public have been allowed in to peer at the interior, which must seem very inconvenient for the staff who are yet assembling the place for its work. This is no time for criticism of operations or collection or anything else; give that a year and some fiddling. Libraries are like most other engines: they have to break themselves in gradually.
This one will get only a few runs around the block before the critics lick their pencils and begin to write the place up or off. The fate of this library and similar endeavors will depend largely upon the resolution of certain conflicts; all the talk thus far has been about blending and harmony, but all that is just noise to cover the bang that will come from the collision of these two worlds.
Nobody really knows what will happen. This new library is portrayed as an experiment in physics, but success will depend more on the elements of chemistry. Nobody has poured a public and a college library into a beaker before to see what would happen.
I do not think that the public sector will suffer much from the addition of the college library staff, collections or philosophy. I am wondering how well the college side will fare now that an urban public library has been dumped into their laps. I wonder what they will do for or about the homeless woman I found in the little cafÃ© downstairs, mumbling her problems to the world, filthy, certainly no scholar; what of the man I found upstairs in the journals, amusing himself by flashing pornographic cartoon images on his computer screen for the world to see; these are commonplace everyday public library patrons in the big city. I asked one of the university librarians what he thought, and he told me, "I'm getting a lot of questions about what a novel is, that sort of thing. I don't plan to spend a lot of time on that, and if it comes down to a time conflict between the students and the public side, I know which one hired me and pays me, and it isn't the public library."
The frankness of that comment surprised me, but I wasn't shocked to find that a person who went into one sort of library wouldn't necessarily be happy to find himself and his career wedged into another type altogether. Me, I'm a public library man. I like the edgy ambience of the urban setting, and its denizens don't bother me a whit. I suspect that feeling may not be universal; the effect of that upon the operations of the new King facility will not be inconsiderable, though the shakeout may be, like most other things librarians do, a silent operation.
If I had to make a prediction I'd say that the future looks a lot more like King library than otherwise. Our friends the taxpayers require a lot of convincing to open their wallets, even for things like libraries, which in California used to be considered ordinary expenses of a civilized society. Future library projects, particularly large ones, are likely to be designed and promoted as benefiting multiple constituencies-a grim if realistic nod to our segmented society.
I would be willing to bet that the thing works itself out in the end; librarians are flexible creatures (say what they will under their breath), and in the end it will be their work that makes the place run well, as it very likely will.
Now, if only they would shift the library school to the new library and hold classes there-now that would be a revolution.