This month the Architectural Record investigates the role of libraries in the digital age and how that translates into design. The issue showcases a menagerie of brilliant buildings from all corners of the earth. Quite literally from Tokyo to Timbuktu. And while the scale and breadth of these structured environments is impressive, there was one talking talking point, echoing throughout, that struck me as being of particular importance: The sustainability of libraries depends on flexibility and a commitment to user-centric design. The modern library has become an information commons. A place of books. A place of media. A place of information proper.
This is important for two reasons. First and foremost, it’s the truth. I pull a lot of bound reference material from storage for patrons. Sometimes books. Sometimes periodicals. Maybe an antiquated issue of the Architectural Record with an article by or about Walter Gropius. Maybe a biography or government document. Sometimes I point a patron towards the new books with work by SHoP. I also help with online job applications, student aid, mobile data uploads, and the occasional database. I think many of you will agree or have experienced that our respective roles reach farther in day to day practice than they do on paper. The image of horned-rimmed glasses and saying, “shushhh.” is dead. Gone. Obsolete. The library as an institution has changed and continues to transform. The present state of information is fluid or parametric. Books and media are important to a functioning library, but understanding the way patrons use those resources and adapting to meet their needs is imperative, which brings me to my next point. I feel the sentiments of the Architectural Record on user-centricity, as well as my humble mediation on the matter, are congruent with Vision and Values of the Grand Rapids Public Library. We are free, welcoming, flexible, and empowering. Modern. So, good job everyone.