The modern library debate

Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye was on Kim Hill’s show recently, talking about his work. He provided an interesting description of what he thinks a modern library is like.

Think about the library as a network hub, a place where the community hall is merged with the library, and social services are also activated there. So you have life-long learning, you can learn motor mechanics, flower arranging, yoga, you can get a book, you can get a class on languages, you can get government services. So it really becomes a hub, and it becomes one of the few places where you see multi generations of people, people of different languages and backgrounds, all coming under a service that is supplied in their community and neighbourhood.

And it helps with this idea that the library is more than just a container for books, which is really a post-war idea to do with educating and edifying communities,  but the library has become in our communities a place where communities overlap and children and adults overlap, a place which can edify and continue life-long learning, which we know is now incredibly important. It’s no longer just getting your education till your eighteen or twenty and then that’s it. There’s so many technological changes, information is changing so much, that life-long learning is part of our way of life in big cities.

Sir David Adjaye, Wikipedia

Aspects of this seem to fit nicely with the vision for our new Central Library.

Listen to the full Radio NZ interview with Sir David Adjaye.

Public Libraries: the changing face of the public library  features:

  • information on how public libraries are changing in the UK,
  • debate about the Idea Store concept (which Sir David was involved in designing).

Libraries – the front porch of the community

Aranui Library
The community visits our newest library at Aranui.

Here are some resources on libraries and their pivotal role as a community space.

Projects for Public Spaces has all sorts of links to articles about parks – markets – town squares – civic squares – emphasising the importance of community and “place-making”.  The articles and photos of beautiful places are full of good ideas for designers in Christchurch.

Here are some of their comments on libraries:

1. Libraries that matter

There are plenty of unsung libraries that embody a very different and more compelling vision of what it means to be a public place. They may fly under the radar as architectural landmarks, but they still garner respect, praise and even adoration on account of their innovative management and programming–as well as design that supports a multitude of different uses. They are taking on a larger civic role – balancing their traditional needs and operations with outreach to the wider community–thereby contributing to the creation of a physical commons that benefits the public as a whole. If the old model of the library was the inward-focused community “reading room,” the new one is more like a community “front porch.”
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2. How to make your library great

To succeed today, libraries must master many different roles–some traditionally associated with libraries, some not. Their new, multi-faceted missions must be supported with great design, strong amenities, and popular programs. That’s a lot to juggle, but when everything works together, libraries become places that anchor community life and bring people together.”
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A 2009 article Libraries at the Heart of our Communities from the Planning Commissioner’s Journal [5.9MB PDF]:

Noted architect and writer Witold Rybczynski offers an online slide show titled, “How do you build a public library in the age of Google?”His main point: libraries are far from dead in today’s Internet age – in fact, they’re making a comeback as key anchors in our downtowns.

On the subject of “Libraries as Buildings”, Designing Libraries is “the centre for library design and innovation: a resource for library planning and design, a database of library buildings and a marketplace for services.” Explore the Featured Libraries page for some interesting examples and case studies.

Rose McDermott
Insite Librarian