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Library Rites

What happens when literature meets architecture?


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DOWNTOWN SAN JOSE'S new eight-story book barn opened last Saturday, and Biter went down to chew on the text-heavy action. The celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Library's 475,000 square feet of floor space, 15 miles of bookshelves, 5,000 tons of structural steel and 88 gold-painted carburetors on the fifth floor blew out all the stops. People of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities showed up to view the gargantuan steel and glass structure with its strange angularities jutting out into space.

Biter's all for celebrating bookishness but was a little disturbed to see teenagers scribbling "Happiness is being a librarian" on SJSU pavement. Teenagers! Whatever happened to sticking M-80s in toilets? What happened to tagging? Has it all gone the way of Harry Potter?

Since the library is the first of its kind in the United States--one that combines a university library with a city's public library--bigwigs skittered out of both sides of the civic closet to speechify. San Jose Taiko drummed up the hour-long dedication ceremony, which took place on a makeshift stage at the campus-side entrance to the library.

Local organizations, including the Redevelopment Agency, Hispanic Genealogy San Jose and the Tech Museum, set up booths all over the Tower Lawn area. T-shirts billing the library as "The Miracle on 4th Street" sold for $10--the miracle being that the city and the university were actually able to pull this whole thing off with just $177.5 million dollars. The entire City Council sat in the shade underneath umbrellas while the rest of the public stood in the sun.

Charles Reed, chancellor of the CSU System, declared, "San Jose is now at the forefront of the movement to integrate universities with their communities." He postulated that the library is more than the sum of its parts. We were unsure if merging the two libraries together would indeed be an "unbroken mesh of involvement" or a broken mess of involvement.

Mayor Ron Gonzales then quoted Winston Churchill: "We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us." Soon, we will all be angular and full of information.

Finally, the library officially opened its doors, and to the tune of the Symphony San Jose Silicon Valley performing Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, hordes of commoners slowly mobbed their way through the front doors. Fire marshals were on hand to make sure no one got hurt in the stampede.

Certainly full of information, if not exactly angular, the six-member King Library Dream Team set a new world record for nonstop reading aloud. By the time 12:50pm Saturday came around, they had been trading off for 74 hours, 49 minutes and 37 seconds--breaking the Guinness World Record. Cough drops for everyone.

Inside the library itself, a giant LCD screen vividly displays how many books have been checked out so far. The library opened to the general public on Aug. 1, and at 11:02am on Aug. 16, 439,791 books had been checked out.

On this day, unfortunately, no one was allowed to check out books, due to the grand opening party. The employees were just too busy showing the place to thousands of people. At presstime, the total gate count for Saturday was 17,459.

Breaking our own record for escape speed, we jetted out the front door and across San Fernando, moving past the Peninsula Banjo Band, who were playing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.

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From the August 21-27, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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