Slate's architecture critic, Witold Rybczynski, has just put up a fascinating slide show essay on downtown libraries, including Seattle's. To read the essay is to sense all the strain as architects try to redefine large library spaces for an Internet Age. Rybczynski focuses on reading rooms, normally the grandest spaces in downtown libraries and perhaps the spaces most likely to be made obsolete by the impact of Google and Kindle. Some, like Nashville's evoke past grandeur. Others, like Denver's (by Michael Graves) are fairly cartoonish efforts to create monuments to reading and public gathering spaces. Seattle's, notes the author somewhat mistakenly, tries to do without such a room (actually it's way upstairs, and fairly grand). Here's what he says: [Seattle's Rem-Koolhaas designed downtown library] is the library conceived as a drop-in center, filled with computer terminals, magazine and newspaper racks, lots of comfortable seats, and, yes, even bookshelves. Like most modern libraries–and unlike most traditional libraries–the stacks are open to the public, although as books become digitized, this part of the building is likely to shrink. The Seattle Public Library has the rough urban chic of a converted loft. When I visited, the users were a mix of students, tourists, and street people–many reading newspapers, even more using the computer consoles, very few in the stacks. He notes that downtowns have been turning to different institutions to revitalize themselves, as department stores, movie palaces, and grand parks have faded. The new magnets are convention centers, ball parks, museums, concert halls, and libraries, some of them with the added appeal of "starchitecture." Whether libraries really ought to be in the economic-development game is dubious, or at least a stretch. But cities like Seattle (others on his slide show are Chicago, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Salt Lake City) are sure trying hard. The Salt Lake City library, perhaps the best in the group, has something of the feel of the Milan Galleria, with cafe, deli, florist, comic book store, and even an NPR station as part of the complex. And will it work, given the impact of the digital age on library use? Consider this: Ross Dawson, a business consultant who tracks different customs, devices, and institutions on what he calls an Extinction Timeline, predicts that libraries will disappear in 2019. He's probably right as far as the function of the library as a civic monument, or as a public repository for books, is concerned. On the other hand, in its mutating role as urban hangout, meeting place, and arbiter of information, the public library seems far from spent.