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The Burton Barr Library

December 16, 2009 by J Seth Anderson

112 years and 1 month ago (November 1897) fourteen women wanted to create a public library in Phoenix and organized the Friday Club. Seven months later in June 1898, the Friday Club opened the Phoenix Public Library at Washington and 1st Ave in the Fleming Building (another Downtown beauty lost to the wrecking ball.) The library wouldn’t have a permanent home until 1953 when the location at Central and McDowell was dedicated. It moved again in 1995 to its new location known to us as the Burton Barr Central Library.


Burton_BarI find value in all libraries and the one Downtown does not disappoint. It’s one of the “Phoenix Points of Pride” for a reason. From the Phoenix.gov Web site the library is described as, “280,000-square-foot Burton Barr Central Library, designed by bruderDWL architects, is inspired by Monument Valley, resembling a curving copper mesa split by a stainless steel canyon. Housing a collection of nearly 706,000 items, more than 2,000 people visit the central library daily. The library is home to a number of unique collections, including materials about Phoenix and the state of Arizona in the Arizona Room, artist-made and fine press books as well as the Alfred Knight Rare Book Collection in the Rare Book Room and the nationally acclaimed Accessibility Services Center with assistive technology for people with disabilities.”


The soaring glass walls on the north and south offer stunning view of a young city, growing through awkward years, but forging ahead with its own identity and significance. The library  radiates certainty that ideas matter, that knowledge matters and that it is attainable to those willing to look and take the time to learn.


If you’re there on a Saturday morning, you’ll find me in the Arizona Room. (I just outed myself as a huge nerd.) I pour over old maps, essays, government documents, and neighborhood histories. I found a picture of my grandfather in a yearbook from the early 1960s when he was a teacher. I also found a copy of my mom’s freshman yearbook and her picture inside.


I can hear the chorus saying, “Libraries are irrelevant in the Age of the Internet.” But I must politely disagree. Libraries have kept safe the most treasured ideas human beings ever had. While access to ideas and information at the click of a button in a marvelous achievement, people still need a place to come together to share that knowledge, to teach and be taught. And the Burton Barr Central Library is an excellent place to do that.


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