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An independent library is opening in Pike Place Market

Formerly located in the downtown YMCA building, membership library Folio is set to open in the Economy Market

One of Folio’s reading rooms.
Courtesy of Folio

There’s a lot of stuff you can get done at Pike Place Market: pick up some groceries, get some lunch, browse the stacks. But there aren’t a lot of quiet places to read, work, and think among the hustle and bustle. Folio, a private, nonprofit library started by Seattle Weekly, Town Hall, and Crosscut founder David Brewster, hopes to change that.

Folio is an independent, nonprofit membership library, with a collection of around 20,000 books and memberships starting at $125 a year, with lower student and youth rates. Previously located farther south in the downtown YMCA building—closer to the downtown Seattle Public Library branch—it reopens in the market’s Economy Building at First Avenue and Pike Street with views of Elliott Bay on July 9.

The ADA-accessible facility will include three reading rooms and a kitchen, plus a public lobby where everyone, member or not, can browse some of the collection. Those who are visiting and want to explore a little deeper can buy daily or weekly memberships for $5 or $15, respectively.

It’s not a public or academic library. Rather than operations being supported by public funds or tuition, members pay dues. (Folio currently has about 600 members.) But membership libraries are the grandfather of our current public libraries, where private book collections became available to the public before Carnegie Libraries, and eventually the libraries we’re used to today, came into being.

Of course, Folio is not the only library other than a public or university library in Seattle—there’s the Social Justice Library in Beacon Hill and, formerly, the Zine Archiving and Publishing Project at Hugo House.

But Folio, according to Brewster, is one of 21 traditional membership libraries in North America, which gather under the nonprofit Membership Libraries Group.

Nonprofit status has an impact on the library’s community and vibe, and makes these spaces, according to Brewster, “independent of city budgets or university priorities.”

“Boards are very focused on books and writing for these libraries,” said Brewster. “They are quiet, they are humanly scaled, and the patrons share of deep interest in books and ideas.”

“Most of the books [at Folio] are donated from private collections in the region, and are thereby daylighted for the public to have access,” explained Brewster to Curbed Seattle over email. “Those who join Folio may browse open stacks, borrow books, use quiet reading [and] working spaces, and enjoy some discounts for tickets.”

Folio will also provide free books and public programming at “bargain rates,” said Brewster. The library hosts around 100 public events, like readings, lectures, and music, every year. It’s also a kind of co-working space, with quiet spaces to work and opportunities to “incubate” literary and civic organizations.

Folio officially opens its doors in Pike Place on Monday, July 9, with an official grand opening on Wednesday, July 18 from 4 to 7 p.m.