Libraries As Architectural Gems

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Winnie Au for The New York Times

We occasionally hail architecture, and frequently hail libraries as essential to our shared humanity, and when we get the chance to hail both at the same time, the world seems in good order:

Why Can’t New York City Build More Gems Like This Queens Library?

The Hunters Point Community Library is one of the finest public buildings New York has produced this century. But it cost more than $40 million, took a decade and almost died.

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The canyon-like lobby entrance of Hunters Point Community Library. Winnie Au for The New York Times

Against a phalanx of mostly dreary new apartment towers, the soon-to-open Hunters Point Community Library by Steven Holl Architects is a diva parading along the East River in Queens, south of the famous Pepsi sign. With its sculptured geometry — a playful advertisement for itself — it’s even a little like the Pepsi sign.

Compact, at 22,000 square feet and 82 feet high, the library is among the finest and most uplifting public buildings New York has produced so far this century.

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Winnie Au for The New York Times

It also cost something north of $40 million and took forever to complete. So it raises the question: Why can’t New York build more things like this, faster and cheaper?

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The library is full of nooks and corners, illuminated by big windows with sculptured walls covered in bamboo.Credit Winnie Au for The New York Times

Opening Sept. 24, Hunters Point is surely what Queens Library officials and the borough’s former president, Helen M. Marshall, had in mind when the project was proposed more than 15 years ago: a crown jewel among Queens branches, at a singular, symbolic spot facing the United Nations and Louis Kahn’s exalted Four Freedoms Park across the water. Continue reading

Libraries Roaring Back

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A rendition of the new main branch of Deichman, Oslo’s public library. This library is designed to see and be seen. Atelier Oslo and Lund/Hagem architects

Alyson Krueger, who we have not seen in our pages for nearly two years, has a story that indulges one of our favorite pastimes, library-celebrating, in a round-the-world review of the latest, greatest:

Where Libraries are the Tourist Attractions

Libraries are having a moment. In the past few years dozens have opened across the world, resembling nothing like the book-depot versions from the past.

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Austin Public Library

About a decade ago libraries across the world faced a dilemma. Their vital functions — to supply books and access to information for the public — were being replaced by Amazon, e-books and public Wi-Fi.

To fight for their survival, said Loida Garcia-Febo, president of the American Library Association, libraries tried to determine what other role they could play. “They invented these amazing new initiatives that are finally launching now,” she said. It took them this long to raise money and build them.

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Museum of Literature Ireland

Libraries are certainly having a moment. In the past few years dozens of new high-profile libraries have opened close to home and across the world. And they certainly don’t resemble the book-depot vision of libraries from the past.

To attract visitors from home and abroad, many libraries have advanced, even quirky amenities. They have rooftop gardens, public parks, verandas, play spaces, teen centers, movie theaters, gaming rooms, art galleries, restaurants and more. The new library in Aarhus, Denmark, has a massive gong that rings whenever a mother in a nearby hospital gives birth.

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Tuomas Uusheimo

In March, Oodi welcomed its one millionth visitor. “We have tourists from all over the world visiting, but mainly from Europe mostly, China, Japan and America,” said Anna-Maria Soininvaara, the library’s director. “Usually they want to experience the Maker Space and ask where all the books are because the shelves are always half empty because they’re all on loan.”…

Read the whole story here.

Libraries as Cultural Hotspots

 

An installation at The State Library of Victoria during White Night in 2014. The library hosted almost 2 million visitors last financial year. Kerry O’Brien publicity

Never one to tire of reading about libraries, the essay below gives me a surge of hope in a world where culture is often upstaged by bullish showmanship. The sense that libraries encapsulate and span centuries of human endeavors, yet still evolve and remain essential to communities around the world is completely on point. “All hail the librarian!”, indeed.

Friday essay: the library – humanist ideal, social glue and now, tourism hotspot

Last year two Danish librarians – Christian Lauersen and Marie Eiriksson – founded Library Planet: a worldwide, crowdsourced, online library travel guide. According to them, Library Planet is meant to inspire travellers “to open the awesome book that is our world of libraries, cities and countries”.

The name of the online project is a deliberate nod to the Australian-made Lonely Planet. The concept is simple and powerful. Library lovers contribute library profiles and images from their travels; the founders then curate and publish the posts, with the ambition of capturing library experiences and library attractions from around the world.

Why make libraries a focus of travel? There are a thousand practical and aesthetic reasons, as well as cultural ones. Libraries for the most part are safe and welcoming places. And they tell unique stories about the people who build and appreciate them. If books are the basic data of civilisation, then nations’ libraries provide windows on national souls. They are precious places in which to seek traces of the past, and reassurance about the future.

Library Planet now has dozens of intriguing profiles – including from Burma, Iceland, Tanzania and French Polynesia. A recent entry celebrated the Melbourne Cricket Club library at the MCG. The site has rapidly become a favourite among the bibliographical communities and subcultures of Instagram and Twitter, such as #rarebooks, #amreading and #librarylove. Continue reading

Have Books – Will Travel

A Pack Horse Librarian returning over the mountain side for a new supply of books (Part of Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, Kentucky Digital Library)

We’ve long held the belief that librarians are among the real life Super Heroes of society.  The history of the Pack Horse Librarians may be new to us, but without doubt, they deserve a pinnacle spot in the pantheon.

There are both rural and urban communities in our country that continue to qualify as “at risk” related to the official support received for the public educational and cultural services that libraries represent.  Some of the New Deal programs that helped millions of Americans survive the Great Depression seem advisable in the face of  administrations that turn their backs on libraries and other equivalent cultural elements that helped make the country great.

 

Horse-Riding Librarians Were the Great Depression’s Bookmobiles

During the Great Depression, a New Deal program brought books to Kentuckians living in remote areas

Pack Horse Librarians start down Greasy Creek to remote homes of mountaineers anxious for books. (Part of Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, Kentucky Digital Library)

Their horses splashed through iced-over creeks. Librarians rode up into the Kentucky mountains, their saddlebags stuffed with books, doling out reading material to isolated rural people. The Great Depression had plunged the nation into poverty, and Kentucky—a poor state made even poorer by a paralyzed national economy—was among the hardest hit.

The Pack Horse Library initiative, which sent librarians deep into Appalachia, was one of the New Deal’s most unique plans. The project, as implemented by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), distributed reading material to the people who lived in the craggy, 10,000-square-mile portion of eastern Kentucky. The state already trailed its neighbors in electricity and highways. And during the Depression, food, education and economic opportunity were even scarcer for Appalachians.

They also lacked books: In 1930, up to 31 percent of people in eastern Kentucky couldn’t read. Residents wanted to learn, notes historian Donald C. Boyd. Coal and railroads, poised to industrialize eastern Kentucky, loomed large in the minds of many Appalachians who were ready to take part in the hoped prosperity that would bring. “Workers viewed the sudden economic changes as a threat to their survival and literacy as a means of escape from a vicious economic trap,” writes Boyd.

This presented a challenge: In 1935, Kentucky only circulated one book per capita compared to the American Library Association standard of five to ten, writes historian Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer,. It was “a distressing picture of library conditions and needs in Kentucky,” wrote Lena Nofcier, who chaired library services for the Kentucky Congress of Parents and Teachers at the time. Continue reading

The Original “Third Place”

Louie Chin

A friend of mine recently posted on social media about beautiful libraries in Halifax, as well as other favorites, including the Boston Public Library. We’ve written about libraries countless times on this site, both due to their clear cultural importance, as well as their impact within our family. It reminded me how libraries have been part of our lives since early toddlerhood for our sons, starting in Ithaca, where they were born, and in Paris, the American Library (the largest English-language lending library on the European continent) where they discovered authors like Philip Pullman and Terry Prachett. There are no limitations for what libraries have meant to our family over the years.

Thanks to sociologist Eric Klinenberg for this opinion piece.

To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library

This crucial institution is being neglected just when we need it the most.

Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.

But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.” Continue reading

Consider The Little Free Library

 

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This Little Free Library in the McKinley neighborhood of Minneapolis appears to have a small reading loft, big enough for a city mouse.

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Father Time stands sentry at a Little Free Library in the rough-hewn Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul.

We made a decision early on, for reasons I do not recall clearly, to avoid linking out to obituaries–even for heroes whose lives have resonance in our pages. This one made me think twice about that decision.

In part it is because we have paid an enormous amount of attention to libraries over the years. Also, this man’s innovation (did we really never feature it in our pages before?) was clearly in the realm of what we call entrepreneurial conservation. And maybe, just a bit, I like the idea that the first little free library (the last one displayed below) was a tribute to the innovator’s mom.

Thanks to the New York Times for getting this story just right:

Libraries, Writ Small

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This Little Free Library enjoys the open space of Triangle Park in Minneapolis.

Todd Bol’s Little Free Library boxes, which blend the form of folk art with the function of a community water cooler, have popped up in all 50 states and in 88 countries.

By Katharine Q. Seelye Photographs by Ethan Jones

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This Minneapolis library is a classic of the genre, with its Plexiglass front and gable roof, supported on a sturdy post.

Todd Bol was simply paying homage to his mother, a schoolteacher and lover of books. He built a doll-sized schoolhouse, filled it with his mother’s books and put it out for his neighbors in Hudson, Wis., as a book exchange.

Today, just nine years later, more than 75,000 such “Little Free Libraries” dot the globe, from San Diego to Minneapolis, and from Australia to Siberia.

merlin_145782390_b76569b1-e928-4a57-b546-1162ae75ae3f-superJumbo.jpgWhy did they catch on? For starters, they promote a friendly, sharing economy. No one tracks who took what. There’s no due date. No fines. You might never return a book. You might leave another instead. And, they are inherently cute. As Mr. Bol recalled, his neighbors “talked to it like it was a little puppy.”

This week, many bore a white ribbon in tribute to Mr. Bol, who died Oct. 18, in Minnesota at the age of 62. Here, a photo-essay of some of the little libraries near his hometown.

See all the other photos here.

A Place And A Time For Learning To Read, And To Appreciate Books As Things

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Just this moment, as I started today’s post, I learned I had missed a 50th birthday party. We tend to like round numbers, even if they do not mean much–why should the 50th be any more important than the 49th or 23rd? For whatever reason, a centenary or half-centenary, or bicentennial all seem to have a bigger ring. So, happy birthday to this book (last year) that I searched for after reading Susan Orlean’s essay on her personal history with libraries and books:

…My family was big on the library. We were very much a reading family, but we were more a borrow-a-book-from-the-library family than a bookshelves-full-of-books family. My parents valued books, but they had grown up in the Depression, aware of the quicksilver nature of money, and they had learned the hard way that you shouldn’t buy what you could borrow. Because of that frugality, or perhaps despite it, they also believed that you should read a book for the experience of reading it. You shouldn’t read it in order to have an object that had to be housed and looked after forever, a memento of the purpose for which it was obtained. The reading of the book was a journey. There was no need for souvenirs…

I have just recently finished unpacking from storage a lifetime’s worth of books–actually multiple lifetimes because in addition to my own family of four’s lifetimes there are also books from our parents’ and grandparents’ personal collections. And the essay got me thinking about whether I had a personal favorite book, and if so whether I have a “souvenir” of it.

I had taken a moment after emptying a box to leaf through this book that qualifies as a contender. I remember where I was when I purchased it, and where I first read it. But the essay I just read got me thinking about the importance of libraries to my own history with reading, so I focused my thought on the question what was my first favorite book. And the book above was that book, without question, in part because it was what got me to return to the library for more books. Not much more to say on that, but if you are a bibliophile or a libraryphile, if you consider librarians heroes, or any such thing, the essay may be for you.

The Most Important Infrastructure

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People read in the Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library MARK LENNIHAN / AP

This podcast featuring Eric Klinenberg resonated with many of our readers, and this article he wrote for the Atlantic may be the next best step in advance of reading his book:

Worry Less About Crumbling Roads, More About Crumbling Libraries

America’s social infrastructure is falling apart, and it’s hurting democracy.

Every four years, the American Society for Civil Engineers issues grades for the nation’s infrastructure. In the most recent evaluation, released in 2017, America’s overall infrastructure score was a D+, the same as in 2013. Although seven systems, including hazardous waste and levees, received modestly better grades than in the previous assessment, transit and solid waste, among others, did worse. Aviation (D), roads (D), drinking water (D), and energy (D+), retained their miserably low scores. Continue reading

Libraries As Palaces For The People

9781524761165We have had more stories in seven years about libraries, and librarians and books than most other topics, so we are pleased to pass along this reference to a book about libraries (among other essential elements of social infrastructure). In 20 minutes on this podcast the ideas in this book are discussed by the author:

Eric Klinenbergprofessor of sociology and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University and the author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (Crown, 2018), argues that the future of democracy lies in shared spaces, like libraries and parks.

Italian Curiosities In Lovely Cabinets

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The Biblioteca Angelica in Rome holds the first volume of Cicero’s “De Oratore” that was printed in Italy, in 1465, and a precious early edition of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Credit Susan Wright for The New York Times

An Alternate Model For Books

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When Samantha Haskell took over a bookstore in Maine, she looked to local farms, and “community-supported agriculture,” for commercial inspiration.ILLUSTRATION BY SALLY DENG

Combining some of our favorite topics, including agriculture and books and transferable models of agriculture, our thanks to Adrea Piazza for A C.S.A. FOR BOOKS:

Mariah Hughs and her husband, Nick Sichterman, founded Blue Hill Books in 1986. It sits on Pleasant Street, in Blue Hill, Maine, a coastal town with a population that swells during the warmer months and thins out again each winter, reduced to its cast of fewer than three thousand year-round residents. This past winter, in the midst of that slow season, Hughs and Sichterman retired, leaving the bookstore in the hands of Samantha Haskell, who had been their full-time employee since 2010. Haskell had working capital to survive the first year, but, in order to maintain the breadth of the store’s inventory, she needed to raise additional funds. Rather than compromise the shelves, she looked to local farms for inspiration, devising a plan modelled after “community-supported agriculture,” commonly referred to by its initials, C.S.A. Blue Hill Books would become a community-supported bookseller: a C.S.B. Continue reading

Librarian’s Librarian

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The Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, believes in citizens’ right to access information. “It should feel very special because it is very special,” she said, of the Library. “But it should be very familiar.” ILLUSTRATION BY BEN KIRCHNER; PHOTOGRAPH BY LEXEY SWALL / THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX

It has been too long since our last shout out, among dozens starting in 2011, to libraries and librarians, so we are thankful for this opportunity with a brief excerpt from the middle of this post on the New Yorker website:

THE LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS AND THE GREATNESS OF HUMILITY

The values of Dr. Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first person of color in the position, can be seen in every aspect of the institution she runs.

…Mention her name to a New York Public Library staffer, and there’s a frisson of excitement; at her raucous and bustling sendoff in Baltimore, a high-school librarian, quoted in the Washington Post, called her a “rock star.”…

Library Luxury of a Different Sort

The exterior of the Fort Washington library the year it opened, 1914. The top floor windows are for the apartment. (Photo: New York Public Library/Public Domain)

The beautiful Beaux-Arts design of many of the buildings in the New York Public Library system represent only one definition of luxury. The idea of children growing up playing and reading in the stacks at night produces the colorful imaginings of literature where children spend nights in museums, or ramble about in the “tippy-top floor of the Plaza Hotel”.

I’m sure most of us haven’t heard of the custodian apartments that used to grace New York City’s branch libraries, and I for one, am grateful to Atlas Obscura for sharing this curious history.

Inside the New York Public Library’s Last, Secret Apartments

There are just 13 left.

There used to be parties in the apartments on the top floors of New York City’s branch libraries. On other nights, when the libraries were closed, the kids who lived there might sit reading alone among the books or roll around on the wooden library carts—if they weren’t dusting the shelves or shoveling coal. Their hopscotch courts were on the roof. A cat might sneak down the stairs to investigate the library patrons.

When these libraries were built, about a century ago, they needed people to take care of them. Andrew Carnegie had given New York $5.2 million, worth well over $100 million today, to create a city-wide system of library branches, and these buildings, the Carnegie libraries, were heated by coal. Each had a custodian, who was tasked with keeping those fires burning and who lived in the library, often with his family. “The family mantra was: Don’t let that furnace go out,” one woman who grew up in a library told the New York Times. Continue reading

Library Reading Room, Luxury, Legacy

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The Rose Reading Room is luxurious in the way that only certain shared spaces can be. Its grandeur attracts its visitors, and is in turn amplified by their presence: the true urban symbiosis. PHOTOGRAPH BY DREW ANGERER / GETTY

It was the room in the photo above where I sat, in the early 1990s, collecting some data for a research project that would eventually become my doctoral dissertation. I had been in that room once or twice in my youth, but as an adult on a specific mission (little did I know the data collected that day would help me develop ideas that we now call entrepreneurial conservation within La Paz Group) the room barely registered in my notice. Except as a very practical place to read some historical documents.

So I am delighted to see that room again after a long time. It looked great to me the last time I saw it. Now I can say wow for different reasons. The legacy of the room is protected, and perhaps renewed for another hundred years. If you click the image and go to a larger viewing with greater detail, you will understand why the word luxury fits in the title of this post on the New Yorker website.

It is not our practice to use the word luxury because it is so laden with old and often inappropriate (considering the ecological condition of the planet, considering advances in socio-economic development, and considering other modern sensibilities) meanings. So we appreciate when others take care in how they use it:

THE ROSE READING ROOM AND THE REAL MEANING OF “LUXURY” IN NEW YORK CITY

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To say that the ceiling of the Rose Main Reading Room, at the New York Public Library’s main building, on Fifth Avenue—the biggest room in the biggest public-library branch in the country’s biggest city—is an ornate piece of work is putting it mildly. Continue reading

Bookstores Are Just A Small Notch Below The Library In Our Pantheon Of Cultural Institutions, But They Are There

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Bodhi Tree—Los Angeles, California

We liked it the first time around, and appreciate his extension:

DRAWING THE WORLD’S GREATEST BOOKSTORES

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It was a little more than two years ago that I walked around New York, drawing pictures of the city’s endangered landmark bookstores.  Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In The Boston Area

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Saint Barbara, attributed to the “Ghent Associates” of the Master of Mary of Burgundy, from a book of hours-missal, c. 1485-1490. Courtesy of Houghton Library/Harvard University

We check in from time to time at magazines published by universities where we have recruited. This article, which we appreciate topically because of the conservation of cultural heritage described, makes us wish we could visit the venues described in “Illuminations.”  Lily Scherlis provides a good example of why we keep coming back to this magazine–crisp, clear writing and a compelling argument in favor of looking back into history for an enriching perspective on crowdsourcing versus individual authorship (read to the end of the quoted section):

…These works were born into a world where literacy was scarce and almost universally affiliated with religion: the exhibition description refers to monasticism as, at its heart, a “cult of the book.” I imagine how compelling written religious text would have been to early readers: the words echo off the page, as if read by an invisible voice heard only by you, but are available to other readers as well. Continue reading

Library Law’s Legacy

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The National Library of the Czech Republic in Prague. Credit Pavel Horejsi for The New York Times

If you search this site for topics written about frequently, library might be among the top 10 topics, for reasons that many of those earlier posts would make clear. Today, a lovely short item from Eastern Europe, that makes us wonder:

Why Libraries Are Everywhere in the Czech Republic

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PRAGUE — In the age of Amazon and the internet, the idea of going to a public library to borrow a book may seem ever more quaint and old-fashioned in many parts of the world, but one country, at least, is clinging to it tenaciously: the Czech Republic. Continue reading

Libraries, Phaidon Style

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Ricardo Legorreta’s San Antonio library, Texas, as illustrated by André Chiote

Phaidon has produced a book to meet our library fancy:

The world’s best libraries look even better as posters

See how architect André Chiote has illustrated buildings by Norman Foster, Oscar Niemeyer, Rem Koolhaas and co

When successful architects are tasked with designing important city or national libraries, they rise to the challenge. These practices, which often spend much of their time on overtly commercial work, seem to come to life when they put their civic-minded hats on. Continue reading

Library Charisma

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An old sheep barn and loafing sheds will one day house books. Credit Allison Amend

It has not been long since our last linkage out to a “library love” story. But this one is combined with a travel/journey and a conservation ethos–themes we enjoy seeing addressed together. Worth a read, thanks to the Travel section of the New York Times:

I am perched on a slippery roof ridge at the Buffalo Peaks Ranch in the rain, feet sliding on ancient asphalt shingles atop rotting plywood decking, tethered only by a rope. For fun.

With me on the roof are five other volunteers who are donating their time and brawn to create a live-in rural library in Colorado, helping the booksellers Jeff Lee and Ann Martin realize their dream.

In the course of their 20 years at the independent Denver bookstore Tattered Cover, Mr. Lee and Ms. Martin have accumulated more than 32,000 volumes on the American West (my first novel, “Stations West,” is among them). Seeking to share the books, and their love of Colorado, the pair, who are married, have leased the Buffalo Peaks Ranch, about two hours from Denver, to house their collection. Continue reading

An Unusual Library With A Conservation Mission

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A short note here to link out to a story of interest because of its intersection of conservation, commerce and education. Thanks to this new (to us) source of interesting (to us) news:

The Harvard Library That Protects The World’s Rarest Colors

The most unusual colors from Harvard’s storied pigment library include beetle extracts, poisonous metals, and human mummies.

Today, every color imaginable is at your fingertips. You can peruse paint swatches at hardware stores, flip through Pantone books, and fuss with the color finder that comes with most computer programs, until achieving the hue of your heart’s desire. But rewind to a few centuries ago and finding that one specific color might have meant trekking to a single mineral deposit in remote Afghanistan—as was the case with lapis lazuli, a rock prized for its brilliant blue hue, which made it more valuable than gold in medieval times. Continue reading