There is a widely held perception that British public libraries are in decline and that the proliferation of online services and continuing financial pressures are proving too much. Similarly, people think that new library buildings are rarer than giant pandas. Neither is in fact the case.
Media coverage over recent years has focused on closures and falling loan figures. Positives like the growth of virtual libraries and the diversification of physical services into new and exciting areas, such as computer coding, Lego clubs and high-tech Makerspaces seem to be less newsworthy. Big building projects in major conurbations tend to get plenty of media coverage but local library developments fail to attract the same attention.
It is frustrating to read and hear that public libraries have perhaps ‘had their day’ when the sector is vibrant. UK libraries receive 250.8 million visits a year, more than all cinemas, night clubs and professional sporting events. Continue reading →
The inaugural Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) Design Awards were presented in June 2017 at a one-day seminar celebrating Australian library design held at The Library at the Dock in Melbourne. The awards showcased the excellence of contemporary Australian libraries and paved the way for future reimagining of libraries. This posting describes the awards process, portrays some striking features of the buildings, demonstrates superb teamwork of librarians, architects, designers, planners and funding agencies in building new libraries and refurbishing old ones, and hopefully inspires and informs others.
The awards. Handmade frosted vases by Brian Carr of Canberra Glassworks
Universal Design (UD) refers to design which seeks to make buildings and environments available for use by everyone in society regardless of age, size, ability, disability or need. Accessibility is not an additional component but integral to UD thinking. UD takes a holistic approach, enhancing access for all without lowering standards. Many libraries and educational institutions use a more specific concept, Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
Seven Principles of Universal Design
Anne-Marie Womack notes on her blog Writing Rhetorics that there are seven principles of UD: Equitable, Flexibility, Simple and Intuitive, Perception Information, Tolerance for error, Low physical effort, and Size and space.
James Campbell and Will Pryce in their world history of libraries comment that it is hard to reconcile talk of a crisis in library design due to spending cuts and the decline in importance of printed material with “the continued explosion in library construction in the first decade of this century and the large number of library buildings currently being built. For a construction sector in crisis it seems to be a remarkably healthy one”. The Designing Libraries website records over 60 UK library projects completed in the five years from 2011 – 2015, the majority of which are refurbishments or extensions. Some were very significant enhancements of older buildings including historic buildings of major architectural importance. Trends include an increasing focus on user requirements, community awareness, energy efficiency and sustainability. While it became more difficult to secure funding for library buildings, librarians who were fleet of foot, had adjusted to meet new demands and remained at the heart of their respective communities, were able to make the case to funding authorities to provide attractive, well-designed physical spaces to deliver increasingly varied and electronic services. It is not possible in a blog to do justice to the various developments and more detail can be obtained from a chapter in British Librarianship and Information Work 2011-2015 on which this blog is based.