My friend John Palfrey and I have had the pleasure of co-teaching a terrific fall seminar at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design on the past, present and future of libraries, expertly helped out by Ann Whiteside (the director of the Loeb Library) and Jeff Goldenson (from the Library Innovation Lab). The seminar’s home in an architecture school has helped to drive the discussion towards a key question that confronts (and haunts–today is Halloween!) conversations regarding libraries of the future: namely, how much does physicality count. And what sorts of physicality? The physicality of the silent
reading room, the open access stack, the coffee house in the basement, the carrel where you can “spy” on the books and documents gathered together by another researcher?
After six weeks devoted to tracking different historical moments in the history of the library as an architectural type, from Pergamon to Alberto Kalach’s 2007 Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City, we have now moved into the design or “action” phase of the course. There have been various offers, some gratefully taken up, to redesign shelving systems for actual bookstores or the
libraries of research institutes. There are also projects “on the table,” so to speak: the idea of mobile display modules, micro-galleries, where patrons of a library are able and welcome to see the work in progress of other patrons, be they artists or scholars or ordinary citizens. In the spring semester, a library “test kitchen” will be established to allow for the actual physical building out of the most interesting projects, as well as to host other innovative solutions and designs.