What's true for our alien ice cathedral of a main library is also true for branch libraries: More spectacular equals less comfortable. Greenwood's library offers little in the way of razzle-dazzle, but is filled with softly diffused natural light and accommodates traffic with a gracefully flowing floor plan. By contrast, the Ballard branch—despite its sweeping, grass-topped roof, sexily exposed ventilation system, and luxurious expanses of blonde wood—is hard to sit in. Literally. Just try to pass a quiet hour with your ass tastefully cradled in one of the library's Eames fiberglass shell chairs. "Eames" equals automatic reverence in design circles, and there is something hypnotic about this chair, its form both austere and space-age glamorous. But the sculptural, softly swelling sides—essentially armrests you can't rest your arms on—seem to have no purpose other than enforcing a single, centrally approved position. You may as well give up and sit all the way back, because to sit in one of these things is to surrender your sacred American right to fidget. It would be pretty silly to indulge in nostalgia for the bland libraries we voted to replace back in the sunny days of 1998, but they did have a dusty living-room vibe that in Ballard has been sacrificed to oppressively impeccable taste.
Ballard Public Library, 5614 22nd Ave. N.W., 684-4089, spl.org. 1–8 p.m. Mon.–Tues.; 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Wed.–Thurs.; 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Fri.–Sat.; noon–5 p.m. Sun.-- Read more of David Stoesz's The Slutty Eye.