Worldwide Imagination: Libraries

I’ve always been interested in architecture. Of course my mind wanders, and my ideas for architecture often get blended into other, stranger thoughts (see my post on relocating ideas to consder). Lately I’ve been thinking about Libraries and how they are changing.

Sackville Public Library

Around here – Atlantic Canada – you don’t see a lot of innovative architecture. Sad but true. My local library is very nice, but I wonder how it will change in the future. They already lend out e-books. What else will change? These thoughts got me online and looking around for unusual libraries of the world, based on architecture (hats off to the blog VillageOfJoy where I found many of these interesting buildings!). Here are a few of the ones that caught my eye.

Seattle Public Library, Seattle, WA, USA image credit to 

Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, MO, USA (this is actually their parking garage, a salute to the books that the public cited as being the most influential in their lives) Image Credit jonathanmoreau

The National Library, Minsk, Belarus (image credit )

UCSD Geisel Library, San Diego, CA, USA (image credit)

Beyond how things have changed in architecture, there have been many changes in technology in the library – even in my little hometown. As I mentioned above, they now loan out ebooks. You can download them in the building. Some people worry that this will be the way of things; that eventually the paper book will disappear completely, and instead of beautiful buildings we will have huge online collections of digital material. I can’t really see this happening. I love my kindle, and my kobo, but I also have shelves of books that I enjoy for the tactile sensation, especially those I have kept for some time and come back to again and again for reference or pleasure.

The librarians wonder it too. Here is a bit of their summary from the 2011-2012 Tennessee Library Association webinar (link to their keynote speech here)

“After two decades of continuous library technology increases and a budget crisis that has affected nearly every library in the world, we are left with the question: what will the library of the future look like? We have seen huge cuts in expensive brick and mortar spaces and collections, in-person services and programming, and other face-to-face library services. At the same time, we are finally realizing the high return on investment for library web, mobile, hardware, and software services. The budget crisis may force us to face our inefficiencies and drastically re-engineer our services and the way we provide those services to our customers. The legacy system is burning down all around us. What will emerge from the ashes?”

With the librarians thinking and planning, many libraries are already starting to change how they work. Many feature more community areas. Computers are available, and wireless internet for those who have laptops or ipods or next year’s new device. My library is part of a local network of libraries. They have their own website, through which you can reserve books, do research (without wondering if some joker has been messing with Wikipedia again) and socialize. Other libraries have new and innovated services, like multimedia spaces with specialized equipment available (image your own green room). Check out this article on Libraries 2.0.

So we are seeing the space change and the services change. What next?  What do you see changing about the way libraries look? They way they work?

Lilly Cain



  1. teramis · · Reply

    What a fascinating question you posit, Lilly. I’m a former librarian myself, and a pioneer in library automation (I automated the first public library in the world with a microcomputer, in 1979). So I’ve been watching what has developed in library systems, technology, and info delivery changes with a lot of interest over the years.

    I have no idea what form it will take in the future, but I think the seismic shift in libraries (now, at least) revolves around information curation. Previously libraries stored books, and systematized access to them. Then they stored a variety of info in numerous forms; ditto with systemic access. But now, with storage cheap and ubiquitous, and with the interwebz being the largest possible distributed info warehouse on the planet, libraries have lost primacy in that function.

    Instead, the thing librarians can do now that few others are positioned to do, is to curate information: selectively gather and make available the best resources in a particular subject area. That might be a book, or it might be a webpage somewhere: but libraries are well suited to act as gateways able to assess the quality and provenance of information. They can screen out the tons of drek on the net and winnow things down to just the gems of really great content of use to readers and researchers.

    Like I say: I don’t know what delivery form that might take, but this curating process seems like the natural next step to me in an info environment where the catchword is “publish first, curate later.”

    1. Hi Teramis! I didn’t know you had a background as a librarian – it’s a small world. I was a librarian in the information systems library at the Bank of Bermuda in Bermuda back in 1994 and helped them create a digitalized catalogue. 🙂

      Certainly, a lot of the information out there isn’t curated – we have information sources that can be changed by anyone with a keyboard. Having someone to help guide the way would be highly valuable and I think that libraries are poised to continue with that charge, so long as they can keep up with the world and the tech.


  2. I wasn’t a librarian, but I did work in one for four years. I loved every minute of it & I love libraries. These are amazing photos. Thank you for sharing those.

    I think libraries will be around for a long time, but I do think they’ll be changing and unfortunately, I think that small libraries in far flung areas may be the ones that go away. That makes me sad. Because I grew up in a far flung area and enjoyed seeing that book mobile coming to my very small town. But maybe that’s it. Maybe libraries will become more nimble and mobile in the future.

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