For centuries, libraries have played a huge role in the preservation and propagation of culture. As the treasure trove of knowledge, libraries have been responsible in part for written language itself being created and refined. In fact, many nuanced systems of documentation and organization of data can trace their roots back to library science.
That said, the nature of information itself is changing. Books are no longer the sole standard of epistemic credibility, and the written word itself is mutating in its expression as we enter a digital age. Bite-sized information available within seconds of request are the antithesis of book-based research – does this mean that the institutions tasked with collecting books are facing their end?
Architectural morphology would indicate the opposite. While knowledge continues to change hands and forms, the need to make it available to a wide audience remains constant. Besides, libraries are not just repositories for dusty volumes, but a built environment specifically designed to encourage the interaction between data and people. Changing ways in which we express and interact with this data – from novels to kindles, or from silent readings to live tweets – exhibit how libraries as a whole must adapt and evolve. Libraries of the past were often out of bounds to common folks, or under the diktat of powerful patrons; in an increasingly democratic world, the same spaces can be transformed to provide more and more people the means to educate themselves.
The design of learning spaces occupies its own niche focused upon maintaining the delicate balance between individual focus and community exchange. This balance is especially crucial in the design of new-age libraries, which can no longer solely consist of carrels of books and little else. Whether as standalone community spaces, or as annexes to institutes of higher learnings, libraries must include spaces that facilitate exploration at the individual level and collaboration at the group level. Through years of research as well as hands-on application at varying scales, we have devised a framework for transforming libraries that includes the following:
The Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning may have been mere buzzwords for many up until even a decade ago, but have now become fundamental components of our lives. Especially within the domain of information dissemination, technological intervention has dramatically transformed both the methods of input and the expected output.
In simpler words, poring through a book is no longer the preferred way of gaining specific knowledge; as the Digital Library Foundation reports, over 93% of college-aged students preferred looking up information on the internet than borrowing from a library. The connotation is clear: there is no longer a need for rows and rows of reference books. Providing digital and online access to library resources ensures greater ease of function, eliminates the issue of availability and access, and speeds up the process of learning. Technology, in this manner, can ensure that independent and exploratory learning can happen without disruption – regardless of a student’s location.
Pedagogical research has consistently indicated that sensory engagement is a crucial aspect of neurological development. By that rubric, the diversification of library resources to include mediums other than the purely visual would be the next logical step. However, that change has not occurred beyond a few modern exceptions; keeping this in mind, we have been advocating for the inclusion of Maker Spaces in library precincts across a variety of projects.
Encouraging hands-on learning, Maker Spaces utilize two key ideas: firstly, as the nature of teaching itself changes, top-down instruction is rapidly becoming obsolete. Secondly, for libraries to remain a viable cultural institution, they must accommodate changing user patterns and allow for greater user interaction within their premises. In view of these ideas, Maker Spaces emerge as the perfect morphological complement for traditional libraries, actively engaging users through the LRPA methodology (Learn, Reinforce, Practice and Apply).
For instance, through the use of paper and 3D printers, coding stations and AV infrastructure, Maker Spaces elevate the learning experience within a library to a multi-sensory interface. Not only is this methodology more effective at imparting skills among various age groups, it also encourages the perception of a library as a vital community hub. In a time when google searches and algorithmic biases are being held accountable for lopsided access to credible information, new-age libraries can revive the culture of intellectual rigour that is fundamental to human progress.
In order to encourage collaboration and exchange, libraries themselves must become collaborative and agile. This approach too can be interpreted at two levels – one being tectonic diversification within the library complex, and the second being the creation of collaborative linkages with other institutions.
Dr. David Thornburg describes four primordial learning spaces that have existed in varying iterations through millennia – the campfire, the cave, the watering hole, and life. Within the context of a library, these spaces can be interpreted as instructional spaces (the campfire) where one absorbs information through direct engagement, collaborative spaces (the watering hole) where users convene to share ideas as well as work together, and as private spaces (the cave) where one can retreat to boost focus and engage with material at an individual level. These three typologies – through the introduction of study halls, activity floors and reading nooks – comprise the tectonic transformation of traditional libraries.
The fourth primordial space – life, itself – comes into play by establishing virtual connections between libraries, whether public, private, institutional or topical. By sharing resources, libraries can provide nearly limitless access to resources and lower the barrier to education regardless of users’ socio-cultural background. This model has already been put in action in New York City through the My Library NYC program that partners the NYC Department of Education with Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library and Queens Library to improve inner city education.
Libraries have long been synonymous with knowledge. While recent shifts in communication technology have decentralized the power of books, the same developments may be utilized to reinvent libraries in order to support learning across a wide spectrum of interests and abilities. At the school level itself, libraries can form the backbone of participative practices that nurture a scientific temperament as well as independence of thought. Through design, libraries can be positioned as a confluence of traditional resources of information and progressive pockets of discovery.