San Jose’s Downtown Library: Great Art and Bad Bums

There’s a lot to be said about San Jose’s relatively new library downtown, but I’ll focus this on one of the best, and the very worst. Just as context, the 8-story library located on the border between downtown San Jose and San Jose State, is a collaboration that combines both a city library and a college library. One bonus of this is that I can easily borrow the more academic books from not only San Jose State, but also other college libraries.

One of the other things I really love is the the library downtown is secretly an art museum as well. Besides the Beethoven Museum on the third floor, there’s a rotating art exhibit on the second floor. And built into the whole library are a whole lot of artsy surprises, like an Alice in Wonderland door at the back of one of the elevators, and a bathroom sink that shrinks the higher up it’s located. Despite all the exiting activities going the day I biked downtown on Saturday, I opted to spend my hours reading magazines in the library. And that’s how I discovered another artsy surprise: a 3rd floor reading nook. One of the tables was built like a bicycle:

And another was like a part of a classic car:

And I only noticed as I was leaving that Monarch butterflies were hanging from the ceiling above me. Unlike in a museum, I could sit and use the art tables, so I did.

Now on to the horrifically bad: the fact that entire sections of the library are being used as a flophouse by bums. Every few weeks, I go to get some Russian-language books for a disabled home-bound Ukrainian woman, and more often than not, Kelly comes along. While I’m selecting the books, I hear the sounds of loud snoring all around me. Last time, when I was in especially early, there was less snoring, but I saw a veritable parade of eager-eyed bums, pulling their suitcases heading to select a one of the plushy chairs that line the foreign language section. Call me paranoid, but I’m not that keen on having transients around while my 4-year-old daughter plays peek-a-boo among the stacks.

When I complained once, I was essentially told that the sleepers would be rousted if they were students, but if they were homeless, they were allowed to stay. That didn’t make any sense: so a San Jose State Student who accidentally fell asleep over a really boring text was bad, but a bum who’d been banned from a shelter for being too rowdy was just fine? A librarian friend who could be more candid finally gave me an answer that made sense. The city doesn’t condone its libraries being used to public housing; but San Jose State welcomes bums. That is the kind of stupid socialist thinking I hear about at state universities these days: those who pay for their services are scum, but the “poor and downtrodden” are welcome and wanted, no questions asked. Unfortunately, since the library is a collaboration between city and university, what is to be done about creepy snoring bums is an unresolved question.

So it’s a shame. My children love downtown, and I want them to enjoy the library’s whimsical art installations, vibrant and wide-ranging children’s section, and great selection of books. But the fact that it has so questionable characters using it as their home makes me uncomfortable about taking them there.

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