“A lot of basic assumptions about what a library is and should be are on the table in a way that they haven’t been since the industrialization of printing,” says Jeffrey T. Schnapp, faculty director of metaLAB at Harvard and a professor of romance languages at the university’s Graduate School of Design. “There’s a shift of their core identity, away from places where documents are housed, to physical structures that can serve as nodes that add value to the act of consultation.” 

But for all their supposed obsolescence, libraries remain vital places, and many of them are more crowded than ever. Printed material, however, is not always the primary draw. 

“Increasingly, people can use that material anywhere that they want to, which means they come to the library for other needs,” says Jim Neal, the vice president for information services and university librarian at Columbia University. “They come to study. They come to work together. They come to use technology they can’t carry around. They come here to consult with experts, with librarians.”

The pressure to accommodate “other needs” is especially strong at public libraries, which are increasingly taking on civic functions that far exceed the historical mission of serving books to readers.

“Libraries are the new cathedrals of our society. They’re very important sanctuaries,” says the architect Bing Thom, whose new public library in Surrey, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver, was designed as a space of communal engagement.

“…the library becomes the place you escape to for socialization, for solitude, to take a breath. It’s the last space in society that’s free…it is a common space we all share.”

– excerpted from Still Here, Metropolis Magazine, July 2012 issue


Residents came out in big numbers to celebrate the opening of
the Surrey City Centre Library designed by Bing Thom Architects
Photo via The Province, © Ward Perrin

Steve, over at AndersonLayman, provides some additional graphics…

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