Salt Lake City – A Fabulous Library with a Puzzling Past

Despite an explosion, suicides, and a dramatic hostage situation, the Salt Lake Public Library is a peaceful place which welcomes refugees and cares for the homeless. So what’s going on?

20190916_112924The recipient of multiple architecture awards, this modern marvel of steel and glass is surprisingly warm and inviting thanks to the creative use of light and space. It rises out of the surrounding city in a wedge shape with a reflective glass exterior and a curved accent wall.


The grounds make a splash with gardens and a waterfall. This is the perfect place to enjoy your lunch hour or read a book on a sunny day.


On entering the building, all eyes are drawn heavenward. Soaring ceilings, balconies, and walkways steal the show, as glass elevators glide between 5 floors in a smooth almost sci-fi type setting.





The ground floor is a bevy of shops, including a coffee bar, art gallery and gift store – a fun place to wander if you need a break from your research.


Spending time in this peaceful place makes it hard to understand the violence that’s occurred here, but a quick internet search tells a grim story.

In 1994, in the old Salt Lake Library, a gunman took several hostages and held them for six hours in a tense standoff with police.  The library was evacuated while a swat team descended on the area, but thanks to the heroic actions of Deputy Lloyd Prescott the gunman was felled and the hostages released.

With the completion of this stunning new building, everyone hoped the bad times were over, but it was not to be. In 2006, a man planted a homemade pipe bomb on the third floor of the Library. It knocked out a window, made lots of noise, and prompted the evacuation of 400 people. Luckily no one was hurt.

But there have been other incidents. Since 2005 there have been five public suicides and at least one unsuccessful attempt. No one is sure why this keeps happening, but there are several theories.

The Library is located in the middle of downtown Salt Lake, which like most big cities, has a large homeless population and a variety of mental health issues. Another contributing factor has to be the architecture itself.  While the soaring heights of the building are lovely to behold, it is a long and usually fatal drop if one chooses to jump.


Circulation Supervisor Mike Nordenstrom

According to employee Mike Nordenstrom,  other buildings in the downtown area have dealt with suicides.  But thanks to its history, when anything happens at the library,  it goes viral.

He puts a  puts a kinder, gentler spin on the problem. “There’s good karma here,” he said, “maybe people just want to spend their last moments in a beautiful, peaceful place.



And he may be right. This is more than a repository of good books and beautiful views. It’s a place of comfort, one that welcomes refugees, the homeless, and others who’ve lost their way.


Partnering with the Volunteers of America, Salt Lake is one of the first libraries to offer a homeless outreach desk. Easily accessible on the main floor, the desk is staffed by trained personnel ready to help with finding a job, shelter, or questions like how to replace a stolen sleeping bag.


With new securities measures in place, the library staff is looking forward to the future. With a huge collection of books, movies, music, and digital media, not to mention public access to computers, and award-winning programs, this really is a fabulous library. If your travels take you near the Salt Lake Public Library – Check it out.


Do you have a great library near you? I’d love to hear about it.


13 thoughts on “Salt Lake City – A Fabulous Library with a Puzzling Past

  1. I love that this library has a desk to help homeless people. It seems like a kind, welcoming place, and so beautiful. I read the link about the deputy who handled the hostage situation. Very interesting, he seems like a reluctant hero. The best kind.


  2. Libraries are interesting places. On one hand, they seem very serious places of study and learning, but how many movies and books have involved a murder in the library? It’s a sort of juxtaposition of order and quiet and horror. The librarian also someone of trust and just the person who could be leading a double-life.
    I’m not sure what makes people commit suicide in the first place, even though it is something I’ve researched and looked into but not at a professional level. The library has a lot of height inside and you build a bridge and people jump off it. Some people are just as determined to take their lives as others are to save theirs and that’s perplexed me for a long time.
    Best wishes,


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