Libraries As Infrastructure
Imagine being a six or seven year old kid walking into a public library for the first time, believe it or not the feeling can be intimidating. The public ethos of a library is one that consists of strict noise regulations, towering shelves of dusty books, and the implication that everyone in the library is there for the sake of research and nothing else. This however, is not the purpose or the function of a modern library at all, but is rather a stereotype that inhibits library development and keeps libraries empty. In reality, a library is a cultural hub of a community where people from different walks of life can spend time either reading, surfing the internet, or in some cases playing video games.
I remember the first time I ever stepped into a library, I was blown away by the infrastructure that was in place. I was lucky enough to belong to a public library that was very well developed as a social space, including an entire children’s wing with reading and drawing tables, a video rental room (in the days of VHS), and even some pets that were cared for by the library staff to teach kids about different animals. After my mom brought me to the Library for the first time, I was hooked and I ended up spending most of my time there throughout the early years of elementary education. What I realize now that I didn’t realize back then was how much effort and coordination went into creating a space like that where kids can get excited about learning new things, and how much of a positive impact being a member of the Library had on me in the long term.
To touch upon the article by Shannon Mattern, a lot of meticulous thought and planning must have gone into creating such an effective community space. Mattern discerns that a library is an effective community space when its
“intellectual and material systems and labor practices are mutually constructed and mutually reinforcing.”
This basically means that all parts come together to form an effective whole, from website design, to the furniture used, to the paint on the walls, to the content of books on the shelves. In order for a public library to transcend its role as a house for books into a more refined cultural hub of a community, it is paramount that the library has a developed infrastructure consisting of multiple cohesive parts working towards a mutually beneficial goal. A Library can be more than just books on a shelf, and it is important to create that magic in order to captivate minds, both young and old, so that a public library can become an anchor point for the community it resides in, as well as for the families that reside in that community.