Metamorphosis: multi-purpose library – morning

The programme and speaker abstracts are available from

After a welcome by the Director and head Librarian of the Instituto Cervantes (the venue for the day) , and a brief introduction to Eurolis, Olaf Eigenbrodt began with a prezi on “Envisioning the fluid library: multifaceted community space for information, networking and communication” [I currently can’t find this to link to on the public prezi site].

Eigenbrodt contrasted the old paradigm of the static, ordered, communal library and the hybrid, dynamic, hypertext and social library as a result of “digitalisation”, and identified the new needs for zoned spaces (learning, living room, party, lounge [note differentiation between living room & lounge], gaming workshop) within the same building, and the move for libraries to be in landmark buildings – apparently the Nordic countries in particular are currently competing with iconic buildings [I disagree that this is a new development – think Bodley, the Rylands, Senate House for a very few examples].

So with all these needs, and also the new goals & functions being ascribed to libraries by stakeholders, including community use for talks etc, “museum” [from his description, he envisaged this as a mixture of museum (objects) and archives], tourist information, citizens’ service ie. one stop shop, how can everything be crammed in??!  The “multifaceted” library building incorporates the merging of functions and staff [whether a distinction made between frontline & back office (or whatever terminology you want to use!) wasn’t clear].   Existing technologies help libraries to be fluid such as RFID for self issue/returns, smartboards for group work/watching movies, etc.  The fluid/metamorphic library is being built in the King Abdullah district in Riyadh – planned as a classical financial district including an information hub (the first non-gender-segregated cultural/library centre) alongside another 13 “attractors” including an aquarium, and using a lot of these ideas.

Karen Latimer contrasted the unlimited Gulf funds in her paper “Adapting to austerity: library design in challenging times” and began by outlining trends and challenges for academic (but also other) libraries, including increased student numbers and competition/expectations; the emphasis on the user not the stock; move from the iconic (certainly in the UK) to the sustainable…  She presented not quite a bingo card, but certainly most of the buzz words in library design for the last couple of decades:

  • the self-renewing library
  • the hybrid library
  • the library as the third place (neither she nor Eigenbrodt are convinced by transferring the sociological idea of “the Third Place” to libraries [the place away from home and work])
  • collections vs. connections between people
  • learning cafés/information commons
  • the demise of the physical library.

Then the current list:

  • post-occupation evaluation
  • sustainability
  • value for money/doing more for less
  • partnerships/collaboration/co-location
  • regeneration.

These issues have their own particular impacts on layout: service points become less grand as more self-service takes place, furniture looks different (mobile shelving used for open access, choice of seating), signage is particularly important in multi-use libraries, art to attract.  Sustainability entails degrees of re-use: recycling of materials, spaces (phone boxes, jails etc), sustainability and continuity of meaning by remaining in old buildings or refurbishing other buildings of community significance, and the major development in extension and re-furbishment projects – the move from collection space to user space.

A big trend is towards the shared/multi-purpose spaces – currently these tend to be co-located rather than shared, but there are obvious advantages eg. staffing costs, convenience for user, political kudos, footfall/new users/increased use.  Latimer briefly outlined some potential problem areas such as politics, dependency on consensual management, disputes over shared areas, staffing hierarchies/responsibilities, seasonality (eg. University exam periods and vacations), noise, ambience…  She finished with a short list of some examples of shared spaces including Birmingham (opening 2013), Tubbercurry Civic Offices (includes a courthouse and library), Rancho Mirage Public Library (US), the Hive (Worcester) – the first joint public/university library in UK – and gave some useful references for new build and refurb projects: (with a database of new/refurbed buildings in the UK & Ireland)  and – LIBER and NAPLE for Europe.

Alfonso Muňoz Cosme finished the morning with an architect’s perspective in an historical and selective survey of library architecture (chiefly) in mainland Europe, with lots of lovely pictures to send us off for lunch hungry (and hoping for better coffee than the morning’s instant…).  His forecast for the future shape of the library: a service, not a building: hybrid (moving from collections to connections), encompassing several functions so requiring multifunctional architecture, the need for quick mutation to keep up with quickly changing needs – requiring transformable architecture, and the idea of the global library moving towards “a library without architecture”.


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