Monthly Archives: August 2012

Why functional libraries should die a quiet death…

This picture, right here, is the precise reason why functional libraries should die quietly in the night. Look at it – it is, quite simply, beautiful. Who can look at this picture and not feel instantly that libraries are places of wonder and joy? I certainly can’t! This, for those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to experience it, is the New York City Public Library – famous from movies such as The Day After Tomorrow, and advocate the world over for why libraries should look better. I can’t think of a better argument against pure functionality, than to just show photos of some of the world’s most beautiful libraries. So here is installment number one:ImageI made sure to visit this library when I was in NYC this summer – something that does, I concur, make me a bit of a geek…but so what? As a budding librarian I think it’s important to realise that sometimes you can, in fact, aim high – and nowhere does this need to be emphasised more than in libraries. I’m not for one minute suggesting that every library in the world can aim for such glory as some of the ones which I love, but can’t we at least try?? Would it be a bad thing if libraries had better, brighter spaces, and maybe the occasional piece of inspirational art or architecture? I say no! I say that we should go forth and celebrate our libraries. Just because something is a place of learning and study it doesn’t mean that it can’t also be a place of imagination and inspiration – and it doesn’t mean that it can’t be pretty! Take exhibit number two:

ImageThis is the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (can you tell that my latest holiday was to America?!). It is, without question, a place of knowledge. I was reliably informed that it holds every PhD thesis written throughout all of the USA – that’s pretty impressive! Nonetheless, it is also, for lack of a better word, pretty! Just looking at it makes me smile – and I had real trouble tearing myself away when I was there. It just gives me a feeling of such enormous comfort, which is hard to replicate in other, less exciting, libraries. I mean, don’t get me wrong – for me, being surrounded by books is about as heavenly as it gets – but these libraries just take it that bit further! For me, if we want to increase library usage then part of the way to do this is to make libraries physically more attractive.

I understand that, in the real world, we cannot make all libraries look as spectacular as the examples I am currently giving, and yes, functionality is important. Let’s not make it the be all and end all though. Let’s temper it with the idea that libraries are, essentially, about inspiring people to learn, to do better and to discover new things, and what better way to do this than with the decor and architecture when they walk in? And on that note, here is exhibit number three:

ImageThis one, I think I should point out, is not taken by my own fair hands (the last time I went to the British Library I didn’t have an IPhone and therefore didn’t take photos of everything), but it had to be included, if only because I wanted to have an English example to illustrate my point. It is yet another example of a breathtakingly beautiful library though – yet something which also functions as a busy, working library.

So please, I implore you, take my cause on, and, wherever possible, push for libraries to inspire people not just through their stock and services, but also through their site.


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