Notes as I listen to Christopher Hume, Toronto Star’s Urban Issues and Architecture Critic, talk about transforming library spaces “From Reading Room to Living Room”

Thanks to Carr-McLean for sponsorship of this & many events!!  Libraries would not be able to partake and learn at any of these types of events without the sponsorship (i.e. Funding & Investment) of suppliers and vendors.

If you are fortunate enough to read Hume’s column in the Toronto Star, you know what a great fan of libraries he is. In 2006 UN told us that for the first time 50% of people live in urban areas; in Canada that percentage is closer to 80%, and the urban areas are becoming increasingly dense.  In a densely populated world the role of the urban library becomes even more important.  Most people want to be part of a community, and most see libraries as a part of that community. The library as place has taken over from the library as collection. People go to the library as a part of the public realm; interestingly Starbucks is not viewed as part of the public realm.   Those people who get so upset about libraries changing or closing see the library as “theirs” — they have some ownership over the “place”.  Especially since they now feel more comfortable in the library than in years past — they can talk, relax, and have a coffee.  They feel welcome.

This same sense is also happening in museums, schools and other public buildings.  Many have extensive glass for people to see out and see in.

Hume is quite right that for libraries in high-price urban areas, it is crazy to use the space to house books; these can be stored and called on as required.

Light is such an essential element of libraries – of any space.  People may want privacy, and they also want light. Yet not so long ago, light and windows were seen as bad things, destroying paper.  But then, people are bad for paper too!

The Black Diamond Library in Copenhagen, with a 600 seat theatre; it is clad in black granite it is a huge success, with a string quartet playing there regularly.  It is s big institutional project to revitalize part of the waterfront.  — Europe has recognized the power of the library, which North American has not. It changes the library as a place for kids to a place for everyone. Provide a place for people to study, analyze, collaborate; students “go to the library when things are getting serious”

The Black Diamond Library in Copenhagen University with Denmark National Library

Libraries 100 years ago were built as artifacts; John Lyle architected Runnymede Public Library as an artifact. He described the Lillian Smith Library as “heroic” and an “explosion” as architects broke free. The loading dock door, he says, looks like the entrance of a dungeon, as an entryway into a place with fairy tales, mysteries — a place that provokes curiosity and imagination.

As he toured around Toronto taking photos he was struck by how full the libraries were with people.

The glass “box” renovation on the Bloor and Gladstone Library, now 99 years old, transfigures the library to what it is today — a place of light, filled with light. Technology, books, information access is all still important, he says, but the space is as or more important.

People feel less nervous when they enter a place and can see where they are going.  People don’t like to go into a place when it isn’t clear to them where they are going.

Architecture, as a 3 dimensional space, has to be experienced to be understood and reviewed. When considering renovations or construction, Hume advises touring around to different buildings.  He referred to the Seattle Public Library as an incredible building of spaces for different uses.