A New Idea for Libraries
By Amber Combs
It’s been said that in this technological age of electronically finding everything at your fingertips that libraries are becoming obsolete. Information and books that people once came to the library for are now accessible online without leaving your home. They can even be easily downloaded to your cell phone but libraries are not going down without a fight. They are choosing to combat this belief using different and unique strategies and tactics.
The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is a prime example of one of these new approaches. Tower Hamlets is choosing to “modernize” their libraries to bring back the patrons. The council of Tower Hamlets, after ascertaining that only a small percentage of residents used the libraries situated in the area, decided to close all libraries and instead open seven “Idea Stores,” buildings which house libraries, cafes, adult education classes, and internet access points, all under one roof. While the interior is roomy enough for classrooms, studios, and workshops, the exterior of these buildings is designed to be completely transparent in an attempt to remove all visual barriers between the materials inside and the people outside and lure them in with a newer, more modern appearance.
Although the council first feared these places would be seen only as gimmicks meant to compete with established bookstores and internet cafes, they were relieved to be proven wrong. The first Idea Store received triple the visitors of the two libraries it replaced. Excited by the success, council members decided to commission eccentric architect David Adjaye to design the next two Idea Stores. Adjaye’s design for the stores was even more modern; with an exterior made entirely of multi-colored glass panes, the buildings boast automatic doors, escalators, zigzag strip lights, and specially designed furniture. Deyan Sudjic of the British newspaper The Guardian asserts that “the stylistic language is not important if it encourages more people to decide that the world of ideas is worth exploring,” and though he is right, that “stylistic language” seems to be the reason more and more people are heading back to the bookshelves, as evidenced by the increasing number of patrons going to these stylish Idea Stores as opposed to the dwindling numbers patronizing the older libraries.
Whether or not their external appearances actually need a designer upgrade, libraries have evolved on the inside in integral ways. They are now places where you can still check out all types of reading material while being able to use computers, access the internet, learn about your heritage, and have a quiet place to do homework! As for those who think that libraries are archaic tombs of the past that have no use in the electronic future, let us not forget the words of famed English author Neil Gaiman: “In a world where Google can give you thousands of answers, a librarian will always bring you the right one.”