6. Literacy/ESL/World Languages Floor, 2004

6. Literacy/ESL/World Languages Floor, 2004

Ann Hamilton's wood floor consists of 556 lines of maple floorboard routed to make a walkable surface of relief letter forms.

Where Is It?

The Literacy/ESL/World Languages Floor spans the area from the windows in front of the circulation desk to the back wall on this level.


Seattle Public Library – Central Library,
1000 4th Avenue,
Seattle, WA 98104, USA

About the Artwork

At the Central Library, you donʼt need to open a book to find all sorts of written text. Ann Hamiltonʼs Literacy/ESL/World Languages Floor is composed of sentences in 11 different languages, welcoming visitors to the library. As a continuous tactile field, the wood floor consists of 556 lines of maple floorboard routed to make a walkable surface of relief letterforms.

It covers 7,200 square feet in the Evelyn W Foster Learning Center, at the 4th Avenue entrance, which is home to the Literacy/ESL/World Languages (LEW) Collection, from which the project derives its name. The artist chose languages that represent the largest and most frequently used areas of the LEW Collection: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

If you look closely, you will see that the letters are backwards, a reference to traditional typesetting technique in the days before digital printing. Each section of hardwood floor represents a typesetter's block and spells out in raised backward letters first sentences from books representing eleven languages in the library's collection.

From the Artist

In addition, the task of reading the floorboards backwards “demonstrates the experience of learning to read as a process wherein abstract symbols become, in time, transparent and meaningful words and sentences.”

The artist collected “1,543 first sentences gathered by patrons and librarians from books in The Seattle Public Library Fiction and LEW collection. Fiction and non-fiction, poetry and musical lyrics are the dominant textual sources. First lines may not be the most notable line of a book, but after the cover they are a universal portal to an immersion in a bookʼs interior world. The project seeks to evoke a tactile experience of book production and reading in this digital age.”

Funding Source


Funded by Libraries for All Bond 1% for Art funds.

Office of Arts & Culture | Seattle

Seattle was one of the first cities in the United States to adopt a percent-for-art ordinance in 1973. For 40 years, our public art program has been integrating artworks and the ideas of artists into a variety of public settings, advancing Seattle's reputation as a cultural center for innovation and creativity.

Directions to the NEXT STOP

Take the escalator to the next level (level three). If you take the escalator, turn right around the escalator wall, then right again to get to the next escalator. Get on the escalator and you will see Braincast in the wall of the "down" escalator.