The Faulk Central Library is closed, though there are still people working in the building. A lot of us have moved into the New Central Library, but not all. And those of us who have moved are still going back and forth to get things: office supplies, coffee cups.
I started working at Central in 2000 when it was 21 years old. By then Austin Public had outgrown the building and it was becoming obvious that Faulk was not going to transition comfortably to the computer age. When Old Central was built, nobody but Steve Jobs knew that in 15 years everyone would want a personal computer. As it became easier to search a digital index than to thumb through paper, the paper started to go. The catalog went online and the index-card furniture was moved out. Then publishers began digitizing their big reference sets: encyclopedias, dictionaries. No one who worked with it will ever forget the enormous metal carousel we had in the telephone information center. It was a five-tier, seven-foot-tall lazy Susan so heavy with books and binders that it listed dangerously when we turned it. As we computed more we turned it less. Finally the books were moved and the shelves dismantled. They had to cut it into pieces to get the thing out of the building.
There was no avoiding going digital, and getting Faulk Central Library online required cables and cords and power strips galore snaking along the walls and under tables and through conduit tacked onto the limestone pillars. Tracing a wire from a plug to a gadget became a safari through an electronic jungle. And wiring wasn't the only problem. The plumbing wasn't built for the increasing demand. The roof leaked. And the elevators! It was a good idea to have your phone with you when you rode the elevators in case you had to call for rescue.
The building is 70s brutalist: stark and sharp-edged with a rough stone surface; a design that's back in style. The bathroom sinks are orange subway tile, that again-hip mid-century color often paired with avocado. The outside is wrapped with window boxes. The plan was to grow trailing plants in them that would spill over the façade and create a city block of hanging gardens. The planters were fitted with sprinklers and filled with dirt and accessible through small doors that led out to the narrow terraces so they could be weeded, but the greenery never happened and the window boxes became pigeon roosts. We watched the eggs hatch. Vultures and hawks watched, too. The fatalists among us felt that there are plenty of pigeons and hawks gotta eat, but a few years ago the maintenance department covered the whole building with a fabric net and the Wild Kingdom went elsewhere.
The building hasn’t come to the end of its useful life, it just isn’t suited to be a booming city’s central library anymore. There are plans for Faulk Library. The overstuffed Austin History Center is hoping to use some of it to store archives, and the city is considering other ways of putting it to work. Faulk was built to last; it just wasn’t built to house the kind of technological/cultural/gathering spaces Austin requires now.