For the Library



Different people study differently. Personally, I do my best thinking when I’m in a lecture for another class.

This is a proposal for slightly distracted study. The Topical Table speaks to you at a volume which is only intelligible to those sitting at the table. It has no interface. It is not your personal speaker or your headphones — you choose by being there or not.

The Topical Tables can bring students together around a common interest. Librarians choose what sounds to play – it could be archived audio of a lecture, a favorite NPR podcast… anything they find interesting and want to share.


Asides from the slightly distracted study, the tables have other useful features. I observed that people in reading rooms with long tables will most often tend to sit at far corners from each other, not wanting to encroach upon what they feel to be someone else’s space. By placing a hole down the center of the tabletop, it becomes more like one long counter and decreases the perception of encroachment while also organizing laptop power cords. The beveled ends also assist in making a more communal table.



From Material to Table



The now-renamed Topical Tables are cut from one 4’x8′ sheet of 1″ thick plywood and the scraps are used to assemble two stools for every table.

Professorial Table Progress

Prototype #1

For class on October 9th we gave an initial project pitch. I pulled together this prototype of the table in order to test the concept. One sheet of 3/4″ plywood, two cheap trestle legs from Ikea, one resonant speaker, and a weekend of labor means we’ve got a table and some sense of where to go next!

Next steps: working out speaker electronics which are integrated in the underside of the table, resolving legs and connection to a power source, and finding a site for deployment!

Thanks to Jessica and Ben for sitting at the table.



Our visitors from Project Projects posed the question: why are these projects in the library (instead of out reaching from it)?

To this I say, there is a fundamental paradigm shift in exclusivity which the library is embedded in. We are moving from exclusivity of content to exclusivity of experience. The library has been developed to provide exclusive content but now that this has been so radically destabilized by the internet, what the libraries have to offer is prime space for engagement. The library will best serve its community (academic, social, or otherwise) by providing unique experiences.

A Proposal for Slightly Distracted Study

A Proposal for Distracted Study

Study, study, study, study. We’ve all got different ways of studying.

Different people study differently. Also, different areas of study inspire different modes of study. Personally, I do my best thinking when I’m in a lecture for another class. (Something I’m doing right now, in fact.)

So why go to a library when you are free to study anywhere? In short, because the library is a socially agreed upon place of study and it allows you to be in the company of others while still studying with little danger of serious interruption. This is unlike a cafe, for instance, where you might run into friends who are not bound by the implicit agreement to leave you to your studies. Also… we like libraries.

Let’s make the space of the library support many study behaviors.

This is a proposal for slightly distracted study. The lecture table speaks to you at a volume which is only intelligible to those sitting at the table. It has no interface. It is not your personal speaker or your headphones — you choose by being there or not. A room of slight distraction is created by a cluster of these tables each speaking quietly on a different subject.

The Known and Unknown

Stacks at Exeter Library

What is it that makes that “library” atmosphere?

There’s a sense of the simultaneously existing known and unknown that is created by a profusion of books in a library. At one and the same time you are presented with that which is known to humanity—it has been researched, worried over, and published—and your own awareness of unknowing—no matter how much time you spend in the library, you will never be able to read it all (and that’s if you just hit pause with the current holdings). I remember having a hard time coming to grasps with this as a kid at my local public library. I wanted to know it all and didn’t quite accept that I couldn’t.

This is what makes a library great, to my mind. I am worried that it is a quality which is entirely dependent upon a profusion of books though. If the trend in our libraries is to be towards fewer books, or if we come to understand knowledge as separate from the object of the book, then this important feeling is lost. The digital hides the profusion, we know it’s there but we do not feel it.

How do we present, simultaneously, the known and the unknown in human knowledge?

How do we retain the challenge to the intellectual that the library presents?

Alternative Group Furniture

After last week’s assignment it occurred to me that of course this matter of alternative seating for groups in libraries has already been addressed, and addressed cleverly, by Toyo Ito and Associates in the Tama Art Library and Sendai Mediatheque. I had the opportunity last spring to visit both of these locations and loved the cheeky and simple furniture. Here’s some selections (populated by the Tokyo GSD Studio of Spring 2012):

Tama Art Library: Felt Surface

This felt surface (industrial wool felt laminated to a steel subsurface and structure) is in a quiet corner of the ground floor, surrounded by windows, and the space had the most restful feeling. You can’t help but flop onto it.

Tama Art Library: Blob Chaise

This little pouf (upholstered with melamine surface) has an integrated coffee table surface. Probably more useful for sitting than napping, but hey.

Tama Art Library: Computer Desks and Media Chairs

The level computer desks (plywood and glass on galvanized posts) make clever advantage of the sloping floor plane to provide a range of seating heights along its length. The media chairs in the background (wool felt with zipper on steel rod frame) allow people to control their sense of privacy while watching movies by zipping or unzipping the chairs’ hoods.

Tama Art Library: Caviar Stools (Photo by Amy Garlock)

These stools (upholstered) are clustered in the entry lobby, freely moveable.

Sendai Mediatheque: Ring Table

The removal of the center of this table makes it more accommodating to a group of strangers because it feels less like one big table (even though it is) and more like a long counter.

Sendai Mediatheque: Ribbon Bench

This convoluted bench provides a whole range of seating options in one go. The only downside was that the spandex upholstery wasn’t looking too clean from all the use it gets.

The great thing about all these designs is how deceptively simple they are.