Stormwater: Life in the Gutter, a one-man performance

Get a gutter’s eye view of Seattle at a free performance this Saturday.

Photo courtesy Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs

Stokley Towles will showcase his nearly one-hour, one-man performance called Stormwater: Life in the Gutter at noon at the Ballard Library (5614 22nd Ave NW). Life in the Gutter is ” part performance, part exhibition offering a gutter’s eye view of Seattle’s drainage system and the Seattle Public Utilities’ (SPU) employees who guide, monitor and maintain stormwater flow in the city,” according to the release from Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.

Meet Ellen, a gutter detective. Find out what a floating river is and meet James who observes them. Learn about John’s trips into the bowels of the city and what he finds there. Ponder whether beavers should be on the city’s payroll. Discover who tracks toxins before they poison Lake Union.

Towles weaves interviews, observations and historical research together with images and props to talk about runoff in a humorous and illuminating fashion, revealing the world of drainage and stormwater and the people who manage its flow.

Towles’ work brings meaning to the seemingly mundane aspects of city life. Stormwater: Life in the Gutter is the third in a series of performance pieces Towles has created in partnership with SPU. In 2010, he investigated garbage and its role in the lives of those who generate and collect it in Trash Talk. In 2009, he traced the flow of the city’s water supply in Waterlines. He has also created performances related to policing and public libraries.

Free tickets available for Sherman Alexie reading

Updated: Tickets for this event are now gone.

Earlier: Best-selling Seattle author Sherman Alexie will be at the Ballard Library next month – but you need tickets to attend.

From Seattle Public Library:

Seattle writer Sherman Alexie is the author of 22 books. His books of poetry include “Face” (2009), “One Stick Song” (2000), and “Old Shirts & New Skins” (1993). He is the bestselling author of the young adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” (2007), which won the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Alexie’s novels and books of short stories for adults include “War Dances” (2009), which won the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, “Flight” (2007), and “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” (1993).

The Washington Poets Association and the Ballard Library are bring Alexie in for a reading and book signing. The University Bookstore will be selling his books at the event.

Alexie will be at the Ballard Library from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 1st. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required – and there’s a limit of two per person. You can get tickets here.

Guerrilla art performance turns heads at library

Everyone knows to keep quiet in the library — signs on the Ballard Library doors even ask visitors to turn off their cell phone ringers.

So quite a few folks were surprised when a three-piece band began playing in the library lobby Saturday afternoon, followed by the appearance of a large woolly creature and colorful dancers:

The five-minute “guerrilla art performance” was all part of a promotion for a new exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, “Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth.” More details here.

Ballard library launching Manga Club

The Ballard Library is launching a Manga Club for middle school-aged students and older and they want help planning it. Manga is a Japanese style of comics and cartoons and the club will focus specifically on this art. Help plan the new club this Saturday, February 5th, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Ballard Library (5614 22nd Ave NW) study room C. Everyone is welcome, there is no registration and the event is free. Regular meetings of the Manga Club will start on March 5th after mid-winter break.

Free tax help at the library starts Thursday

Although tax day is still months away, you can get help with your returns now. The Seattle Public Library, United Way of King County and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) are offering free tax preparation services at eleven Seattle library branches. Trained volunteers will be available to answer questions and help prepare personal tax returns. Business tax returns are not eligible for the free service.

Help will be available at the Ballard Library (5614 22nd Ave NW) each Thursday starting February 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The tax help will continue every Monday 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Thursday through April 14th. Drop-ins are welcome, or you can call the branch for an appointment (206-684-4089)

For a complete list of times and library branch locations, click here.

Download free music through the library

Here’s a great way to beef up your music collection for free — and it’s legal! The Seattle Public Library announced that it now offers free MP3 music file downloads on its website through Freegal Music. From the press release:

Freegal Music is an online database that provides access to songs from Sony Music. The music files are DRM-free and do not expire, and are compatible with PCs, Macs, iPods, iPads and other MP3-compatible devices.

Seattle Public Library cardholders are eligible for three MP3 downloads per week. A library card number and PIN is necessary to access and download songs.

Freegal Music contains over 500,000 songs from Sony Music artists, including current hits like Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK,” classics songs such as Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” jazz standards like Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and more. New music is added to the collection daily.

To view, browse and download music from Freegal, go to and click on “Library Collection,” then “Digital Books & Media” and scroll down the page to find the “Freegal Music Collection.”

Access to Freegal Music on the Library’s website has been made possible by The Seattle Public Library Foundation.

For more information, call The Seattle Public Library at 206-386-4636.

Library closes next Monday for one week

This is the last week to get things done at the library before budget cuts force the entire library system to shut down until after Labor Day. The Ballard Library (5614 22nd Ave NW) and all other Seattle Public Libraries will close on Monday, August 30th and reopen Tuesday, September 7th.

During the closure most library services will be unavailable:
* No materials will be due and no fines will be accrued.
* The last day to check out Library items before the closure is Sunday, Aug. 29.
* No book drops will be open. Do not leave books and materials outside Library locations during the closure. Book drops at branches that are open on Sundays, which includes Ballard, will close at 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29 and reopen at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7.
* Limited access to the online catalog. Patrons will be able to search the catalog and check their Library record but will not be able to place holds on items. No staff will be working to process the thousands of books and materials that customers normally put on hold.
* Limited access to the website ( The online calendar, databases, downloadable books and media, digital special collections, podcasts, SPL Mobile app and blogs will be available, but other online information and features will not be available. No staff members will be working to maintain the site or troubleshoot problems.
* No Library computers will be available. You will not be able to reserve a computer for the week the Library system is closed.
* No access to Wi-Fi.
* No book group kits will be sent, received or returned during the one-week closure. Kits will be sent to libraries as usual on the last Wednesday of the month, Aug. 25. Kits not available then will be sent as soon as possible after Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 6.
* No programs or events in Library meeting rooms.
* No TeleCirc, the Library’s telephone circulation service.
* No Quick Information telephone service.
* No Text a Librarian, e-mail a librarian or chat with a librarian.
* No Mobile Services.
* No parking in Library garages. The Central Library, Capitol Hill Branch and Ballard Branch garages will be closed.

Library introduces mobile app

The next time you head to the Ballard library, you can now use a free mobile app to reserve books.  The Seattle Public Library app features the system’s catalog and other online services. The app, called SPL Mobile, is powered by Boopsie.

Enhanced features of the mobile app include smart prefix searching to obtain search results faster with just the first few letters of a word or phrase. For example, entering “ha pot g” into the search box finds “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”  You can find information on downloading the app here.

Vandalism forces ‘controlled access’ to library bathroom

After dealing with an ongoing problem of vandalism at Ballard Library, the decision has been made to lock the door of the men’s bathroom.

We spoke with Pamela, one of the librarians on staff, who tells us that although the door is locked, people just need to ask the desk to be buzzed into the men’s room. “It’s an ongoing problem,” Pamela says of the vandalism. She tells us that most recently, graffiti has been the specific issue. The maintenance person has had to repaint the walls several times so they decided to go with a controlled access bathroom for the time being. Pamela says the family restroom and the women’s restroom haven’t had any issues. (Thanks Robby for the photo!)

Magnolia author presents ‘The Map as Art’

Most of us see maps as getting us from here to there, but a Magnolia author is pointing readers in a new direction by using imaginative versions of maps created by various artists.

Last Thursday, Jan. 21, the Secret Garden Bookshop in Ballard teamed up with the Ballard Library to feature Magnolia author Katharine Harmon. She presented a slide show of her new book, “The Map As Art.”

“The Map As Art” is a compilation of artwork by artists who use maps as the basis of their vision. For example, one artist painted a picture of all the continents as if they were viewed from space at night. Cities in the United States and parts of Europe were dimly lit and the rest of planet was left in the dark. The artist titled it “The Axis of Evil–Mostly in the Dark.”

Harmon said her book, “The Map As Art,” was the result of her first book’s success. “I did a book about five years ago called ‘You Are Here: Personal Geographies and other Maps of the Imagination,’” Harmon said. The book contained work by some contemporary artists with historical maps that weren’t meant to be way-finding maps, just creative interpretations.

Shortly after the book was released, Harmon and her publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, saw the book was getting noticed. “Suddenly, the publisher and I started hearing from lots and lots of people,” Harmon said.

After she heard from fans of the first book, it wasn’t long before talk of another related book began. But Harmon said she wasn’t interested in doing the same thing, so she followed some advice. “Somebody else actually suggested to me that I do contemporary artists who are using mapping in their work,” Harmon said.

“The Map As Art,” which was released Nov. 4, 2009, contains 350 illustrations from 160 artists. These include Ed Ruscha, Julian Schnabel, Olafur Eliasson and William Kentridge. The book also contains several essays.

Harmon said she doesn’t consider herself an art historian; she simply finds maps interesting. She said this was one of the reasons for creating the book.

It didn’t take long after the book was released to see that Harmon wasn’t the only person who was interested in maps. She said none of the 7,500 books that were printed made it until Christmas.“They sold out in six weeks,” Harmon said. “I was worried about a $45 book in this economic climate, but I’m really happy.”

Suzanne Perry, events coordinator for the Secret Garden Bookshop, was thrilled to work with Harmon. “She had a new book; I knew that it would be a good fit for our audience,” Perry said. “The audience loves this kind of non-fiction.” Perry said the Secret Garden has been working with the Ballard Library to promote authors for years. “We started our series at the library as soon as they finished this beautiful rebuild of this branch, which was in November 2005,” Perry said. She added that they host four authors per month.

Christina Olson, a cartographer in attendance, said she was delighted by Harmon’s books and her presentation.
“I was trained as a professional cartographer in the late ‘60s and worked professionally at that, so to see maps from an artist’s perspective was wonderful,” Olson said.

Ellen Fitzgerald, librarian for the Ballard Library, said she’s thrilled to be working with Secret Garden Bookshop to bring in authors like Harmon. “For the last four years we’ve had a wonderful collaboration with Secret Garden Bookshop,” Fitzgerald said. “We had probably 100 authors come in the last three years.”

For more information about Harmon’s books or the Ballard Library’s author program, visit Secret Garden Books.
(Contributor Chris Mongillo is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)