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Inside Annoyed Librarian

A Library Isn’t Just a Building Called a Library

There seems to be no end to pointless ways that people use to supposedly promote libraries. The latest comes from Poland of all places, according to this article.

The headline asks “would more people use the library if it had a water slide?” We can turn to Betteridge’s law of headlines and safely answer no.

In the opening paragraphs, we move from an alleged crisis to a really bad solution:

In 2010, Poland’s National Library performed a survey to determine the reading habits of the Polish citizenry. The results were not buoying: 56 percent of Poles had not read a book in the past year, either in hard or electronic form. Just as bad was that 46 percent had not attempted to digest anything longer than three pages in the previous month – and this included students and university graduates.

Why not put these numbers the other way? Almost half the country read a book last year! Over half the country read more than three pages last month! It sounds pretty stupid trumpeting those facts, but the opposite perspective is hardly a tragedy. Most people aren’t big readers. So much the worse for them.

But who’s to blame here: The willfully non-literate masses for not trekking to the public library? Or is it the library’s fault for not attracting these individuals, what with its classically stodgy, hermetic-cage-for-learning design?

Here’s crisis-manufacturing at work. We have a fact about reading rates, which is then interpreted as a problem. If we have a problem, then we need someone to blame. To “blame” people for not reading is like blaming them for not listening to the radio, or swimming, or writing blog posts.

At least one Polish architect believes libraries should bear some of the blame for a lack of reading. Hugon Kowalski, who runs UGO Architecture and Design, thinks that no matter how grand or inspiring a library’s appearance is, many people will not flock to it unless it offers amenities other than plopping down with a book.

So a place that lends books for free is to “blame” for people not reading. Brilliant deduction. If I’ve learned anything over the years about architects, it’s that they don’t know much about libraries. They just want to build showy spaces and move on. For example:

So Kowalski conceived of a new kind of library that he hopes will one day be built…. On its first floor, it’s all bibliotheca: Patrons squat on moddish stools among stacks and stacks of books. But then it gets weird: In the middle of the library is a glass column full of water and flailing human bodies. Go up one level and you’re suddenly in the middle of a vast swimming facility, complete with a snaking water slide that takes whooping swimmers on a ride inside and outside of the building.

Let’s see, take a bunch of books and computers and put them in a room built under a swimming pool. Do swimming pools ever leak? Nah. This is a great idea!

Why put in a pool? It’s because surveys showed Poles don’t want more libraries. “They wanted to see more sports halls, pools, kindergartens and retail shops.” So instead of building more sports halls and pools, let’s build a building with a pool and call it a library. Since people want more pools, they’ll come to use the pool. The pool is in the library. Therefore they are using the library. QED.

This is the same lame argument everyone who wants to “save” libraries puts forward. People don’t want libraries, they want community centers, or jazz clubs, or gaming centers, or some other popular thing. So let’s put that thing in the library. Then people will come to the library! Yay! The library is saved!

It’s saved, that is, except for the people who want a library. Obviously those people don’t matter, or else librarians would be celebrating the people who do read and use libraries rather than try to trick the nonliterate to get them into a building they don’t want to use.

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Comments

  1. Pat says:

    Maybe the whole library could be a giant trampoline and we have to jump to get to the books!

  2. the.effing.librarian says:

    “100% of the people who use the library, used the library!” I agree: celebrate readers. And internetters. And bathroom squatters. Additions to ALA “READ” posters: “CLICK” & “WASH.”

  3. Ariel says:

    What about a slide that allows you to get from one floor of the library to another? Depositing you right at the circulation desk when you are ready for checkout.

    • Pat says:

      I would love that! Also, maybe a glow in the dark room where all the horror books could go, and all the titles would be glow in the dark too so obviously you can see them. I am not sure why we are poo-pooing stuff like this. It seems like no one wants to have any fun.

  4. elena schneider says:

    What about a giant fish tank instead?

  5. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    Why not expand the usage of the library and make the floor double as an ice rink? And on top of the pool, install a ski jump? I see an Olympic Games host city bid in the making…

  6. Eizan says:

    When I was in Korea there was a library with a pool in the basement. Didn’t seem any busier than any other library I’ve been in.

  7. Maybe they could have the staff walking around on stilts dressed as clowns. When someone request a book the stilted clowns could retrieve the book for them, also handing out popcorn and cotton candy (this would encourage younger readers to emerge).

    …but seriously, the idea of someone not reading more than three pages in the past month. Wow! I’ve read more than that on your blog this morning.

    Thanks for entertaining, inspiring and keeping me wondering…

  8. Mark says:

    I looked through the article for the place where it explained why these statistics are considered evidence of a problem, but didn’t find it. Is there some official goal for the prevalence of heavy-duty reading? What logic or evidence supports it? I think people should read enough to live effectively according to their values, but I didn’t realize that library science was able to put a number to that.

    I think that a library with a pool in it is one I would carefully avoid, seeking instead a library with quiet spaces and no distractions. I’m convinced that people who read because they see the value therein are finding suitable reading spaces increasingly rare and menaced by all sorts of unwanted uproar.

  9. AnotherLibrarian says:

    While we’re at it, let’s add a bar! That’s right! A bar! Grab a drink and a book, have a seat, read and CHEERS!!!