The library building and the library service

Library buildings were built around collections. They are now being reconfigured to be built around experiences.
Lorcan 3 min read
The library building and the library service

Library buildings

Inside Higher Ed has an interesting piece about library buildings, From modernist to modern.
It talks about how Lafayette College and the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth embarked on projects to transform the Modernist libraries “at the heart of their campuses into modern, technologically advanced, sustainable centers for learning.”

Lafayette and UMass-Dartmouth are far from alone in facing this situation, said Robert J. Miklos, president of designLAB Architects, the designer of both projects. Hundreds of colleges (in Canada as well as the United States) were built or underwent rapid expansion during the 1960s, in the heyday of the Modernist (and Brutalist) architecture movements that took advantage of new innovations in pouring concrete and favored a blocky, rough exterior (hence the “brutal” in Brutalism).

And given the importance of the physical library to the core business of students and faculty members in that era, those massive structures have been the “centerpiece, focal point of many American college campuses” for the intervening 50 years, said Miklos.

Yet on many of those campuses, the Modernist structures had long since become viewed as liabilities — visually (with many modern-era students considering them eyesores), and operationally, with the facilities often lacking the common spaces colleges often desire for collaborative learning and dedicating too much space to book stacks that are no longer necessary. [From Modernist to modern]

Changing library space

This touches on several topics I have raised in blog entries recently.
Managing down print collections. The repurposing of space goes hand in hand with the managing down and externalization of print collections. There are various drivers here, all mentioned in the article I quote above: the demands on space, the emergence of a digital corpus, the cost of managing a resource that releases progressively less value in research and learning. I believe we are moving to a situation where network-level management of the collective print collection becomes the norm, but it will take some years for service, policy and infrastructure frameworks to be worked out and evolution will be uneven. The network may be at the level of a consortium, a state or region, or a country. The West project provides an interesting example. My remarks here are based on these blog entries:

Shifting from infrastructure to engagement. I wrote about the ‘service turn’ recently, borrowing a nice phrase from Scott Walter. Libraries are looking at the quality of their services in support of research and learning as important markers of distinction, more important, maybe, than the collections which have loomed so large in historic assessment of their worth. I suggest that ..

…. it relates to a general move towards ‘customer relationship’ (or engagement, or research and learning support, or ..) and away from infrastructure management as the primary locus of library activity (I use these terms as used by John Hagel here). This is not to say that infrastructure is not managed, but that it may increasingly be shared or outsourced. One interesting example of this trend is library space, which is being reshaped around library users rather than around collections.

Here is the blog entry:

Brutalism. Coincidentally I wrote a blog entry a while ago about the association between libraries and Brutalist architecture, a natural enough one, when one considers, as the article above does, when these libraries were built and for what purpose. I light-heartedly suggested that it might be nice to have a calendar of libraries in the Brutalist style. It looks as if you could have one every year for many years, with different examples in each!
I discuss this topic here:

Picture: I took the feature picture of McLennan Library at McGill University in Montreal.

Note: Cosmetically amended on 19 April 2021 to add headings and feature picture.

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