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Provider + Portal + ComPonent

Let’s talk about the categorization of libraries. This is typically broken down into four to five groups based on their purpose of preserving information to the services that they provide. The categories are as follows National, Academic, School, Public, and Special Libraries. You may read more about those here and here. I want to focus on three distinct ways libraries are situated within our built environment and what this offers us the public.


Library as a comPonent:


A Library as a comPonent of a larger picture. Instead of being a solo building, a library has the ability to share resources with civic institutions. This collaboration can promote cross-pollination of services and programs.


Northgate Branch Library (image above) in Seattle, WA is based on a campus approach by having multiple amenities on one plot of land. In addition to the library the Northgate Community center, a playground, and a park are all situated together. Most civic projects have a required amount of exterior space that needs to be included in the design. When grouping multiple civic buildings together this allows for the grouping of requirements for a greater good which in this instance created a large green field that both buildings look out on to. The campus design also allows for a greater amount of crossover between the community center and library. By being run by two different local authorities can delay communication but in this instance, it is fairly easy with children programs seamlessly extending between the two buildings. By being a component of a bigger idea can help offer unforeseen services and amenities.


Library as a Portal:


The Library as a Portal provides community insight into an unfamiliar entity. By the library inherently being a publicly accessible building, this grants it the ability to be the portal into somewhere else.


Lincoln Center in New York City is a large performing arts complex with numerous theatres. A unique aspect is having a public library in the heart of the center. The NYC Public Library for the Performing Arts (image above) is situated between the Metropolitan Opera House and Lincoln Center Theatre. This physical connection extends to the library’s programmatic opportunities from free concerts and/or performances for the public. Theatres inherently have a barrier with fees (reduced ticket prices helps reduce this barrier), but the library can grant free exposure to arts for everyone to experience. This library has made what is perceived as private to become very much part of the public realm.


A more common example of this is when high school libraries not only act as the library for the students but also for the locals. This student/public partnership not only can be cost-effective but also create a platform for mentoring relationships for students. Instead of seeing schools as only an educational system for a certain age demographic, this scenario promotes a more multigenerational space for a community. In addition, it helps extend interior spaces for public use like gymnasium courts and large auditoriums. This relationship not only displays the importance of our educational system but makes it more transparent for the whole community.


This type of partnership stretches the realm of interior public space in society that does not fall exclusively on the civic budget.



Library as a Provider:


The library as a provider extends well beyond the offering of information to the public, it starts with how to use their generous public space. Programming the building to be more than just a storage place for books begins to gift new purposes for the members.

The Ballard Branch Public Library (image above) in Seattle, WA not only serves the functions of the library but also the Neighborhood Service Center. This service center is described as a ‘little city hall’ where one can apply for a passport to acquire help with utilities to local civic information. These centers increase the amenities that one has at a library without burdening the responsibility of librarians. This combination of functions helps gather the whole community under one roof. By making the library a singular destination for multiple public-facing actions promotes a stronger civic presence in a neighborhood.


Another example that is becoming more popular is providing business incubator spaces within the library. These spaces are geared to helping small businesses start-up without the overhead cost of having their own office as well as a networking place. Offering free space for the community to shape not only makes the library ‘for the people’ but also ‘of the people’. Now the library is not only providing a space to collaborate but it also gives the opportunity to host programs inside the library. A launching pad to test one’s ideas without spiraling down into financial debt. This type of service helps create equity when it comes to entrepreneurs.


By being a central hub for activity can strengthen the unintended interactions between members from different neighborhoods in one’s community.


Look at your local library and see how it is situated in the built environment. What new opportunities do you think have been created by its relationship or location? What would you like to see more from your library?

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