Two historical barns are transformed into modern libraries. One barn sits in Cumbria, England, a county once host to William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, and Arthur Ransome. Surrounded by the mountainous landscape of the UK’s largest national park, the traditional Cumbrian stone barn was constructed in Ambleside in 1929 by Charlotte Mason College.
To walk into the St. Helena Public Library, SC, is to become immersed in contradiction. On the one hand, it’s modern—a 21st-century library guided by a Maker space philosophy, complete with 3-D printers, an animator, recording studio, littleBits and Makey Makey kits, and more state-of-the-art technology. Seamlessly coexisting with this sleek newness is a down-home Southern warmth and natural, earthy simplicity, with architectural details that embrace links to a unique culture with connections to West Africa.
In a time when the mission of libraries is rapidly evolving, how can we craft buildings that not only endure but thrive when meeting new challenges? This question underlined the learning at LJ’s Design Institute (DI) held May 16 in Salt Lake City. Presenters and peers asked attendees to redefine how they thought about sustainability, exploring the idea in terms of conserving energy and being environmentally responsible and looking at the sustainability of a building holistically—from how comfortable patrons and employees are to how the space can change to support new ventures, some of which designers and librarians might not have imagined yet.
From the Andrew Carnegie–era temples of learning to the small cinderblock “Lindsay boxes” built during Mayor John Lindsay’s administration from 1966–1973, New York City’s 207 library branches are as varied as its population. And like much of the city, they are feeling the crunch of budget cuts and neglect.
Wayfinding in libraries is too often an afterthought. But not in Vancouver, WA, where the newly constructed Vancouver Community Library (VCL) had signage planned into the design. The Fort Vancouver Regional Library District hired the Miller Hull Partnership architects as well as wayfinding specialists Mayer/Reed and AldrichPears for “interpretive installation.” The result is an intuitive setup that gives patrons the broad brushstrokes at a glance, while being future-proof enough to accommodate shifts in the collection in the years to come.
The West Jordan Library, UT, is the new central headquarters for the Salt Lake County Library (SLCL) system. You might think a building of more than 70,000 square feet would not have to worry about efficient ways to make space do double, or even triple, duty. But when it houses 20,000 square feet of administration, management support, and information technology and another 20,000 square feet of library proper including room for 150,000 titles, it makes sense that the 7,100 square foot community room is designed to serve multiple functions.
Over the past couple of years my colleague Kathleen Sheehan and I have been working with a Library Student Interest Group, sponsored by the College Library and the Harvard Undergraduate Council, and we’ve met some great students through this work. Allison Gofman is one of the students who has been part of the LSIG. She is also a photographer. This past year, for her final project in the course, United States in the World 30: Tangible Things: Harvard Collections in World History, Allison created the beautiful online book, Harvard Libraries: Books That Breathe. It “is a visual exploration of the libraries as physical spaces: not only as beautiful architecture or as a collection of books, but as a unique intersection of the two.”