Reading about Dokk1 and the other innovative libraries highlighted by the Model Programme, my thoughts went back to my favorite reading from this semester so far, Shannon Mattern’s “Library As Infrastructure” (2014). Mattern argues that “thinking about the library as a network of integrated, mutually reinforcing, evolving infrastructures — in particular, architectural, technological, social, epistemological and ethical infrastructures — can help us better identify what roles we want our libraries to serve, and what we can reasonably expect of them.” The libraries included in Model Programme’s case studies seem to be designed according to just this sort of holistic view: connected intricately with other essential spaces and services of civic life.
Architecturally, the Model Programme libraries show a real investment in being beautiful — or at least strikingly modern. Many of them look more like contemporary museums than the traditional collonaded Carnegie libraries. Granted, those older libraries are beautiful, in an old school way. But that’s just the thing–the newer libraries’ embrace of modern design harmonizes with a hyperlinked approach, using space to inspire and encourage interaction. From the Library of Birmingham case study page, “The foyer of the Library is critical. It is deliberately conceived as a very generously proportioned landing strip, both to allow mingling and meeting and an event/exhibition/activity space to develop, but also to remove the sense of intimidation that a narrow portal-style entrance and foyer can create” (Case: Library of Birmingham, 2017). The much smaller Canada Water Library in the Southwark district of London still tries to accomplish the same. (Canada Water Library, 2017). The building tapers to a narrower base to allow more space on the exterior grounds for walking, mingling and viewing the water and local environment. What might have been merely a sidewalk was designed into an esplanade.
The Model Programme libraries also show attentiveness to sociological, ethical aspects of what libraries do. In her essay, Mattern discusses part of what she means by the “ethical infrastructure” of libraries when she writes about why the so-called haves and have-nots should both be included and involved: “[T]he library should incorporate the ‘enfranchised’ as a key public, both so that the institution can reinforce its mission as a social infrastructure for an inclusive public, and so that privileged, educated users can bring their knowledge and talents to the library and offer them up as social-infrastructural resources.” The Birmingham Library’s case study webpage gives some indication that they share this vision when they write about their desire for the library to be “valuable to the corporate and professional sector and to homeless people alike.”
There is also transportational infrastructure to consider, and many of the Model Programme libraries are wedded to transportation hubs or along well-travelled thoroughfares. This integrates the libraries into their environments and helps people access them, boosting the chances of the library becoming a hub. The Canada Water Library was conceived as one part of a larger urban renewal plan for Southwark. “The urban renewal takes place in several stages: at first a tube station was built, later the plaza and library were established and the area is still undergoing the last stage of the development which involves residential housing.” The planning behind this shows that the developers value the cultural role that libraries play, understanding that communities need more than shops and restaurants and other consumer spaces for gathering and relating.
All of this indicates an increasingly sensitive design thinking approach to building and operating libraries. For libraries to be successful, their design needs to address a lot more than just library services as traditionally conceived. Libraries need to link their users not just to information resources, but to places, spaces and communities. The Model Programme libraries offer great examples for how to achieve that.
Canada Water Library: The library as urban developer. (2017, September 18). Model Programme for Public Libraries. Retrieved from: https://modelprogrammer.slks.dk/en/
Case: Library of Birmingham (2017, September 18). Model Programme for Public Libraries. Retrieved from: https://modelprogrammer.slks.dk/en/cases/inspirational-cases/library-of-birmingham/
Dokk1. (2017, September 18). Model Programme for Public Libraries. Retrieved from: https://modelprogrammer.slks.dk/en/cases/inspirational-cases/dokk1/
Mattern, S. (2014, June). Library as infrastructure. Places journal, June 2014. DOI: 10.22269/140609