Libraries, the universe and everything

Prodigious public libraries
June 16, 2014, 21:55
Filed under: Libraries | Tags: , , , ,
Whilst planning our latest trip we realised that most of the cities on our itinerary had rather special flagship public library buildings. Naturally we arranged to pay them all a visit, and here are a few thoughts about them.

An extremely grand-looking building contains a clean and fresh interior, with book-related quotes painted on the walls. The winter garden on the top floor was a beautiful spot, and a handful of people were taking advantage of the light and peaceful setting when we went up to take a look – this would also be a wonderful space for a party. I also liked the sign on the door advertising the free wifi (all the better to attract people inside!), though I’m not quite sure what to think about the other notice…

Chicago public library building

Probably the craziest, most interesting-looking, library building I’ve ever seen, and the interior was equally innovative. I’ve never been in a library quite like this, or one which made me want to explore quite so much. From the viewing gallery at the top a walkway spiralled around the building, taking you past staff areas, stacks and seating.  Despite the greyness of the day there was lots of light coming through the windows, there were plenty of people in there but study areas were peaceful, and it all seemed like an inviting space in which to spend time. I also really liked the idea of having the classmark numbers incorporated into the flooring.

Seattle public library building

I have no idea why the architects thought this would be a good shape for a library, but I don’t see how anyone could walk past without wanting to find out what it was! Once inside it was instantly recognisable as a public library, although I must admit that we didn’t explore further than the ground floor and its excellent gift shop. Judging by the number of people spending time in the cafes around the perimeter, and sitting in the adjacent piazza, it seems to be a popular spot.

Vancouver public library building

I have been into numerous libraries that were dark, cramped or otherwise uninviting, as well as plenty that were nice enough, but mostly their design was constrained by whatever the building happened to be like. Equally, past refurbishments I’ve known about have been all about altering the interior space – I can’t remember ever visiting a new purpose-built library.

As a result these have really made me think about how the design of libraries might influence perceptions of and responses to the services they provide. (Just like any other building does, I suppose.)  It seems unfair to judge them on such brief experience, but I think in this case first impressions probably are quite important.

All three libraries felt like places in which I would have been happy to spend more time, but Seattle really stood out for me. Its exciting design seemed to be matched by a considered use of interior space – rather than innovative design for the sake of it, it felt like the actual users had been considered, and thought given to not only how to draw them in but how to give them a positive experience whilst they were there.

(Of course, all my perceptions could easily be completely mistaken, and I’d be fascinated to hear from staff and/or regular users of all/any of these libraries!)




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