PLA 2012: The Future of Libraries

This post was suppose to go out last week…oops!

 The last session I was able to catch was on the Future of Libraries. I’ve been actively interested in this topic since I started and completed my independent study with Dr. Chow on Library Space Design. The idea being looking at how the libraries role is changing and how is that affecting the design in library spaces. In theory you would think that library design wouldn’t be exempt from other design trends. That as the architectural trends drift to one way so would library space design. But interestingly enough some people believe that libraries should be exempt. That libraries are made to be stuck in one design mold;  classical, ornate, and well…stuffy. Although I should hasten to say this is just one camp, for there is another camp that is whole heartedly thinking libraries should be forward thinking in design, ultra sleek and ultra modern. There’s also people who have a love for both types of design trends, I’m one of those people.

I think what’s important is that how people react to library designs speaks volume to how people see the library. If you are part of my community then you may or may not know that we recently passed a bond to have our main library rebuilt (or renovate) as well as two branches. In the last few months we have held three community meetings to have public give their thoughts on what it should look like and what should be included.  It’s been interesting to see what people are saying they want in a new library. Now as a staff member I have my own ideas about what the new library should be like.

This session was fun, because it allowed me to see a number of libraries that had recently been built on the west coast. What I noticed was a lean towards ultra modern and ultra sleek designs. They were straight lines, heavy on the glass and large open areas with focus on open design plans and small intimate spaces on the sides and corners. If there was a curve in the space it was usually a focus design feature usually relegated to the atrium of the library. And almost every single design had an atrium. It was interesting at the end they concluded with a slide that said libraries were moving away from the classical design, with a picture I’m more than positive was a shot of an interior in an academic library and moving towards the future, an image of an all glass and steel public library.

I think the architects would have a hard time convincing people in my community to go for an ultra modern main library. I think we could get away with a branch that was all glass and steel. but the main library not so much. I’ve worked in a newly built open space library before, and I don’t mind saying I have mixed feelings about it. Yes it was new and shiny and it felt good to come into a building that was nice and clean. It lifted your spirit, made you feel happy. The stacks were low so you could see almost everywhere in the building, and a lot of books had weeded and sent to other locations so the shelves were easy to keep up.

But on the flip side those large windows let in the sun and the heat. It was very hard to control the temperature in the building. And if it was an overcast day, it was very hard to see in the building. Noise was a problem as it carried easily. Like I said earlier a lot of weeding was done and books were sent to other places, and there was a point to only keep new or good-looking books on the shelves as this conveyed better. I felt that the customers where being cheated. Were they impressed when they walked in the door and saw how open and bright it was? Yes. Did that feeling diminished when they couldn’t read their computer screens or were told that they would have to wait a day or two before they could get their hands on that one book they came out to get? Yes.

My first major in undergrad was Interior Architecture and one of the first things we learned is that form follows function. The space should function. Did they really speak to that in this session? No. What they did speak to was thinking of terms of how do we bring the customer back over and over. Epic spaces and something for everyone. Encouraging discovery and enabling staff to cope with growth. There was a lot of talk on the form aspect of library design. Which is always fun. Pretty libraries are always a joy to look at. But the talk on function I felt was a little light. But I’m finding that’s might be easier said then done because no one can say what function the library of the future will have and these buildings have to last for some time.


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