Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Library, After Books

I've been thinking a lot about this article from Suzanne Labarre on Fast Company, A Library Designed for the Post-Print Era, about a new library at the University of Amstredam that has chosen to forgo that mainstay of every library since the Middle Ages, the book. What is left? The designers have decided it's a study hall.

While I think communal space dedicated to studying, working and collaborating together is far too rare in most cities and schools, I have to wonder: Is that all that's is left of a library-sans-books, a study hall?

How do I serendipitously trip over a book that someone else left on a table?

How will I bump into a really exciting adjacent yet tangential book as I peruse the shelves for something specific?

There are any number of ways that I could discover something new in a library, and while they may be rather random, they are often very meaningful.

With all of the new ways that we can share, create, and discuss content in the digital era, will there not be new programming of the space that is dedicated to that digital content? New behaviors?

The stacks were ugly and extraordinarily inefficient. While I could be nostalgic and romanticize them, I won't. I applaud the foresight it takes to invest in a significant move away from an outdated technology, and it will no doubt continue to happen in the near future. But I hope that this shift will ignite a reinvention of the library typology. Books are inefficient, and they will likely become rare in the coming decade. But what we replace them with should have the same meaningful experience surrounding it. And the halls in which we read books should be replaced with something that celebrates and enables learning in the same way that libraries did for all the years they existed.


  1. you better think twice about life after books. my cousin a professor and researcher at the max plank institute HATES that idea and thinks knows of tons of important books in his field which get destroyed and histories lost. what about all that?

  2. True, there are a lot of important works that we should work to preserve in book form, but digitization could help keep those works for longer and make them more accessible to more people which would also ensure there preservation. I suppose before we jump to a completely digital future, we should remember that older technologies do have a usefulness and will never be completely usurped by something newer.