What’s in a library?

Strahov Monastery, Philosophical and Theological Halls; Prague, Czech Repulic from The Library: A World History

“ Our academic libraries have been in the wrong business for about one hundred and fifty years. It was in the mid to late nineteenth century that they began to be characterized as storehouses or warehouses of information and I would argue that this information-centered model is a mistake. Before then they were not stand-alone collections of books, but great complexes of mental and physical activity, including museums, gymnasiums, and baths. The goal of the library was to support the great scholars of the day by providing them access to the most important sources of information, but also to everything else that was needed to turn that information into new knowledge, including a space for discourse and debate. I am not arguing that we should put baths or gymnasiums back in our libraries, simply that we need to completely re-think both what it is that libraries do and why they do it.”

Christine Madsen in her excellent blog on libraries.

The academic library may have lost sight of its goals and the prevalence of the digital research has made things only more difficult. However, some academic institutions are building new spaces that are dealing with these challenges. Matt Pickles uses Oxford University as an example to discuss “How to Design a Library of the Future”. (If you want to do it the Oxford way it will cost you £80 million.)

So the library is not dying afterall, especially if you have the money to save it. In 2013 The Guardian’s Claire Shaw pertinently asked:

With universities investing so much time and money into making these aesthetic changes, is there any evidence to show that building design actually enhances learning or drives more people to use the library and its resources?

The people she talked to told her that there was an increase in library usability. Apparently the investment is worth it…

Une bibliothèque est un acte de foi
Des générations ténébreuses encore
Qui rendent dans la nuit témoignage à l’aurore

From Victor Hugo’s “A qui la faute?”

Originally published at academicaesthetics.tumblr.com.

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