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.
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?
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):
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.
This little pouf (upholstered with melamine surface) has an integrated coffee table surface. Probably more useful for sitting than napping, but hey.
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.
These stools (upholstered) are clustered in the entry lobby, freely moveable.
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.
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.
1. Physical Information
As wonderful and amazing as The Internet is, it’s not great at transmitting haptic qualities. The library is a place where the physical properties of information can still be accessed.
2. Public-Supported Public Space
Public libraries are one of the only non-commercial, interior public spaces. They are a place to be without having to spend (more money than you’ve already given to taxes, assuming you’ve paid your taxes).
3. Sacred Space of the Intellectual
There is something wonderful and undeniable about wandering through stacks, waiting for inspiration to find you in the form of the right book. Or in sitting silent in a room with other people, all intently focused on their own pursuits.