Man behind Boise library’s exclamation point tells story; mayor eats crow

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by Katy Moeller, courtesy of Idaho Statesman

The exclamation point on the Boise Public Library (ID) sign jumps out at you.

It’s energetic!

It’s exuberant!

It’s enigmatic!

It’s now a city icon but when it was first unveiled in 1995, Dave Bieter was not a fan.

“I thought, ‘What self-respecting library needs punctuation? … If you’re a great library, you don’t need punctuation,” Bieter told a crowd gathered recently for the monthly storytelling spectacular “Story Story Night.” The theme for the night was “!” — and the library sign was the inspiration for a whole season of punctuation-themed shows, said Story Story artistic director/host Jodi Eichelberger.

Bieter was elected mayor in 2003 — and the library sign was on his agenda.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to go after that exclamation point, and I’m going to get rid of that sucker,’ ” he recalled. “I learned in about an hour and a half of being the mayor that the exclamation point is beloved in the city of Boise.”

Boise Mayor David Bieter was among those opposed to the addition of the exclamation point to the Boise Public Library sign, he said during the debut of the 2017-18 season of "Story Story Night." But once elected mayor, he quickly discovered how "beloved" it is to many city residents.

So whose idea was it? An avid library user named Howard Olivier, who at the time owned Flying Pie Pizzaria.

Olivier told the audience at Story Story Night that he was walking into the library one day in 1994 and was struck that the new sign on the side of the building did not really capture its essence. It said, simply, “Library.”  “It’s a better library than that,” Olivier recalled thinking.

He spoke to the library’s marketing director about adding an exclamation point, and she liked the idea. He said he would pay for the addition to the sign, if she got permission for the punctuation.

Within a few weeks, she called him back.  “The gift would be welcome. Please make it happen,” he recalled. It was installed in January 1995, with a lot of fanfare and local media coverage.

Most people loved it.

“Families tell stories that when they drive by the library, their kids in the back yell ‘library’ when they see the sign,” Olivier said. “People write their checks to the library with an exclamation point. One lady came and told me … she brings all of her out-of-area guests down to look at it and she points up at it and says, ‘That is Boise.’ 

But about one in five people hated it, and Olivier recounted their concerns, some of which came via comment cards at Flying Pie.

“It was inappropriate.”

“It was unprofessional.”

“It was self-congratulatory.”

“It was puffery.”

Olivier recalled that one of the negative comment cards he received at Flying Pie was lengthy, like an essay. That was from Bieter, who admitted that he later ate crow.  “Love it or don’t love it, the exclamation point survives,” Bieter told the Story Story Night crowd.

The city has embraced the icon in myriad ways, including trademarking “Library!” and putting it on all four branch library signs. One of the branch libraries has shelves configured like exclamation points, but Bieter declined to say which one so that listeners could go discover it themselves.

“We’re going to build a new main library, and we’re going to be worthy of the exclamation point,” Bieter said.

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