Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Brett Snyder, Assistant Professor
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Architectural History and Criticism | Architecture
The public library as a single grand building, gated by massive columns and filled with rows of dusty tomes, is a severely outdated conception. The model of library as a permanent, stable landmark in the city has been debased with the advent of digital technology and a new model is forming that embraces the ephemeralness of modern media. However, the image of a building filled with books still holds power over architects and bibliophiles and continues to wield influence over the design of new libraries. Consequently, the modern library is caught between trying to provide adequate technological and educational resources to its patronage and serving the critical role of storing, organizing, and providing access to knowledge.
Books are caught at the center of this struggle, seen both as unwanted remnants of an outdated age and valuable artifacts to be preserved and treasured. The design of recent libraries illustrates this dichotomy but the increasing focus on the importance of the digital is creating conditions that relegate the book to storage. Books in storage may be well preserved, but the power they hold is removed from the public sphere. For books to wield their influence they must be seen and experienced. Technology has caused a schism in the library and the book must go its own way.
The information society born of technology has created a new library, one without walls, even without matter. The digital library pervades, instantly accessible and ever growing. The institution of the public library, to help its patrons through the maze of its resources, must become a guide and voice of authority as well as a place of education and access.
The modern public library is an indefinite thing; spreading through the city, anchored by nodes of authority, but shifting and changing, appearing and disappearing as it is used. Books, by contrast, occupy a definite physical place and need that context if they are to be understood and learned from. The repository where books are sent, rather than a blind warehouse of miles of boxes, should provide books with their place in the modern library city. An open and publicly accessible component of the larger library, the repository can make visible the value and power of books, even in a digital society. The repository is a storage facility and a museum, a resource and an experience.
McGann, Taryn Elizabeth, "What Do You Call A Place Where Books Are Kept?" (2012). Honors Capstone Projects - All. 116.
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