Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

National Libraries Week and a libraries update

Republished with a Tuesday dateline because of mistake in dating the entry (written and published yesterday, but accidentally backdated to Friday

April 8th to the 14th is designated as National Libraries Week, spearheaded by the American Libraries Association, which is a good a reason as any to discuss library matters.

Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth
Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth. This dates to 2010.

1.  Civic assets as a network: libraries as a key node.  While I have discussed the idea of civic assets as a network for many years, it's hardly a discussion exclusive to me and as I frequently mention, I rely on the visual expression of the idea from a presentation by parks planner David Barth.

Basically, I argue that as the community's primary locally controlled cultural asset, they could do so much more, as I suggested recently in "Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets." Thus far, Montreal with their combined library-cultural centers, and the elements of the Salt Lake City Central Library are the closest that come to this idea.

But I came across an initiative and a report that extend these ideas along the lines I have imagined:

-- Civic Commons Reimagining Our Cities’ Public Assets, Reimagining the Civic Commons
-- Civic Infrastructure: A Model for Civic Asset Reinvestment, William Penn Foundation

But I haven't read these reports as of yet.

I can't say I knew about UNESCO's "Public Library Manifesto," which dates to 1994 and earlier.

West End LibraryDC's West End Library opened in December 2017.

2.  I've been meaning to write about DC Public Library's latest neighborhood library re-dos, especially because of the reopening of the West End Library. 

While Architecture DC magazine rated the latter highly ("New DC Library Continues Tradition of Design Excellence"), I am pretty disappointed, even though it is bright, airy, and highly used because of its great location.

DC's new branch libraries are nice buildings, and for the most part, the DCPL has expanded programming at every library.  But I am still more disappointed in terms of the "what could have been."

outside, West End Library, DC,How cool would it have been for this to be a "patio" for the library, with roll up "garage door" openings.

DC has not embraced the concept of a "civic commons" or ensuring that the greatest possible civic return is received from such investments overall and from each one individually.

WRT the West End Library, it is amazing that there is a central courtyard space controlled by the building, providing almost no access to library patrons.  The large meeting room next to the courtyard does not have access to it.  Nor is it set up to allow for secure after hours access. 

The periodicals collection is paltry (more on that below).  The kids section has a play area and some toys, but no slop sink.  Other spaces such as the ledge next to the windows, cry out to be sat on but weren't designed to be sat on. 

The café has outdoor seating, but the library does not.  But it is a step forward that the library is connected to a café, something missed with every other redo of neighborhood libraries (e.g., Daniel, Woodridge, etc.).

Idaho Statesman photo.

3.  I've mentioned the Boise Library in the past, because I was struck when going through the city a few years ago by how they use an exclamation point in their signage. 

The Idaho Statesman has an article on how that came about ("Man behind Boise library's exclamation point tells story").

The City will be building a new Central Library, which will also include an auditorium, an art gallery, and offices for the city's Department of Arts and History. 

It will be designed by Moshe Safdie, who did the Vancouver and Salt Lake City Libraries.  I haven't been to the Vancouver Library, but the SLC Library which is based on it, is one of my favorites ("The Salt Lake City Central Library is absolutely incredible" and "Civic assets and mixed use: Central Library edition").

A big difference in how DC does neighborhood libraries and how SLC does it, is that the expanded program in the Central Library has in turn influenced how they design and operate existing and new neighborhood libraries.

It goes to show that expecting an architect to make a great library is mistaken, because innovation in program is much more important than the architecture.  I figured that out with the DC program, because one of the architects, David Adjaye, also designed the Idea Stores in London.  But the Idea Stores are amazingly innovative, and the DC libraries are not.  It turns out the innovation came from the people running the libraries, not the architect ("IIdea Stores a revised library concept," MPPL; "Idea Store: Library of the Future?," Axiell).

Image from Boston Magazine.

4. WGBH--TV and radio studio in the Boston Central Library.  When I was doing research for my comments on the DC Cultural Plan (ugh, not very good), I found out that Boston's public broadcasting group has opened a studio on the ground floor of the library there ("WGBH studio and cafe to open at Boston Public Library," Boston Globe).

The SLC Library has studios for one of the city's public radio stations on site, and since seeing that I think more libraries should do something similar. 

For example, DC's Office of Cable Television should reposition more like NYC's television operations, with studios at the library, and in a city like DC, we should aim for the creation of a tv network operating something like the Book TV programming of CSPAN.

5.  Dayton's libraries.  NextCity reports that Dayton has been doing expansive library creation for a few years now ("Dayton is making the library a must visit destination").  It's a shame that they haven't received the recognition for this that is deserved, because in the US context, it is exceptional.  From the article:
But the most progressive thing about Dayton — the thing that puts its coastal, blue-state brethren to shame — is its public library system, one of the most dynamic in the country.

In an era of widespread internet access, cheap digital books and federal disinvestment, cities across America are attempting to reinvent their aging library systems. Dayton is at the forefront of this movement. The Dayton Metro Library is leading the city’s cultural transformation, putting $1 million dollars into local art, and using the largest bond issue in state history to radically change the form and function of its library spaces. It is customizing branches for the specific communities they serve, implementing new architecture that can adapt to future technologies, and designing programming that integrates the library into the daily routines of city life. ...

David Schnee, a principal at Group 4, says they modeled concepts for the Dayton Metro Library system on Dokk1, a Danish library that calls itself a “citizens’ house” and functions as a “center for knowledge and culture.” DOKK1 includes a playground, a café, a “creative room” for young children, the city archives, a nursing room (though nursing is permitted throughout the facility), a game room for board games, citizen support services, and media in multiple languages — in addition to library standbys like a quarter of a million books.

Dayton’s system is now “one of the first American interpretations of the concept of having the library be an active community center,” says Schnee.
Libraries as the primary community-neighborhood cultural asset and community center is the concept that I keep proposing. But it is the rare community that pulls this off.

Dayton, along with Montreal and Salt Lake, appears to be an exception.

6.  Dokk1/Denmark. "Dokk1 in Aarhus, Denmark, is the best new public library of 2016," Slate.

I especially like how the outside "stairs" for the building have been designed to also serve as outdoor amphitheatre seating.

Space for Change, in Danish and English, describes the library in more detail.

I haven't written about DC's Woodridge Library, which abuts a large park, but it is a shame that the library wasn't designed to integrate into the park at all, nor was the street space outside the library entrance reconfigured to be more of a public square fronting the building. 

As a counter example, part of the street in front of the South Park Library Branch in the Seattle Public Library was reconfigured as a "pavement park" extending the civic qualities of the public space outside of the library.

Pavement Park in front of the South Park Library Branch, Seattle
Pavement Park in front of the South Park Library Branch, Seattle.  Seattle DOT photo.

Those are just a couple of the big misses from that redo, which was done by an internationally renowned architecture firm.

 (The Francis Gregory Library in Southeast DC does a much better job in connecting to an adjacent park.)   Needless to say, my take on the Woodridge branch is different from others ("D.C.'s Newest Library Packs a Lot of Visual Drama Into a Small, Simple Building," Washington City Paper).

7. Toronto-ish.  Two interesting articles from the National Post ("The important questions: Why do Millennials love libraries so much" and "'The delivery room for the birth of ideas': How libraries can save us and become more than just vestiges of the past").  From the second article:
Libraries remain popular and well-used but they are going through a fragile period. Providing access to knowledge and also serving as community centres in many places doesn’t necessarily impress people who write government budgets. To many, a library must seem a vestige of the past, easily replaceable. There’s a widely held belief that kids now get all the information they need from the Internet.
The article discusses a recent book, BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, by John Palfrey

Plus, like how the National Park Service has a series of "parks passports," Toronto's Library system does something similar ("Explore the city’s libraries with your own Toronto Library Passport Book").

Separately, the Bookworm Café, a for profit space, has a library and members can check out books ("Toronto's newest cafe is also a library: Bookworm Cafe lets you borrow and bring back books," Now Toronto). From the article:
Now, I know what you're thinking: "Lots of coffee shops have a bookshelf, NOW." But Bookworm boasts a collection of 500 books, from novels to poetry and non-fiction; if you become a member (which you can do just by talking to the staff), you can sign out their books and even take 'em home with you. (If you're looking to clear out some books of your own, meanwhile, Bookworm is accepting donations!) 
Membership also gets you special discounts on food and drinks, which includes coffee from Halo, teas from Pluck, cold brew on tap, and food and drinks from Tequila Bookworm's menu.
Note that Petworth Citizen in DC has a similar operation, The Reading Room, but I never asked if you could check out books.

8.  Garbage collectors in Istanbul set aside books they found that were thrown into the garbage and have opened a library space ("Garbage collectors open library with abandoned books," CNN).

9.  Periodicals.  While the Internet has destroyed some elements of print publishing, especially for newspapers, at the same time magazines and journals are still quite successful, even if mass circulation magazines are on a decline too, although not quite so precipitous as newspapers.

In looking at some of DC's new libraries, and writing about the Cultural Plan, and some of my previous discussions about libraries in terms of specialty collections, such as how Dallas has the "Urban Information Center" on urban and civic issues, how many library systems have special health collections (it would have been a no brainer to do that at the new West End Library since it is so close to GWU hospital, etc.), I started thinking more about the periodical collection at each library.

The Woodridge Library, in a lower income area of the city, has I think fewer than 30 magazines.  The Tenleytown Library, in a higher income area, has between 50 and 60, and the new West End Library is between the two.

Why isn't there a decent set of arts periodicals, including Art Newspaper and critical magazines like New Art Examiner?  Shouldn't all the libraries get Chronicle of Philanthropy and Education Week?  What about New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Review of Books, etc.

An urban/cities collection should include trade periodicals and journals, from Governing Magazine and Government Technology to Public Works, Planning Magazine, American City and County Magazine, etc., as well as specialty newsletters such as on zoning and construction.

10. Collecting and making available local music.  In another entry, I mentioned how the digital tv and radio studio at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati is used for a program that features bands coming to town to play in local venues.  The Seattle Public Library has a program, called Playback, to collect and offer to library patrons access to locally produced music ("Seattle musicians- submit your music to Seattle Public Library's collection," My Wallingford).

Note that DCPL does have a "punk music archive," but I don't know if it includes actual music.  Also  a couple years ago, the American University Museum had an exhibit on DC's foray into New Wave in the 1980s, "Twisted Teenage Plot."

11.  Another co-location concept: the city central library and the local university main library.  San Jose has a single facility serving as the central library and the library for San Jose State University, although each is a distinct library, there are differences in hours, but city residents have access to the more specialized collection of the university library.  (Case Study, Penn; "Economies of scale in the library world: the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Library in San Jose, California," SJSU).

When the Province of Quebec built the National Provincial Library in Montreal, the city merged its central library into that facility, and refocused its attention on the neighborhood library system.

This concept ought to be explored by more communities.

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At 4:20 PM, Blogger Edward Drozd said...


The Toronto Bookworm Cafe item is quite interesting, provoking me to think about the Takoma Park (Maryland) Library, which is not part of the Montgomery County library system (which has caused problems when one of my children returns borrowed books to the wrong library). Takoma Park is planning on dropping $5 to $10 million on a new building; having some sort of revenue generation (e.g., a small cafe) intrigues me as someone who plans on living here for at least a large percentage of the bonds' term.

Also, I noticed that my comments on your Takoma Junction post didn't stick for some reason (I think I tried commenting within a day or so of the post, but no comment listed). At any rate, I'll just say that the examples of buildings of co-ops with other uses on upper floors seem like non-starters because they are all greater than one story. Seriously, the degree to which people in my town want to hobble commercial properties (unless of course near Langley Park, where most of my neighbors fear to tread, let alone consider part of Takoma Park) is astounding.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Sorry that the comments on the TJ piece weren't retained. I would have liked to known what you said.

2. wrt the library-community center, years ago to Roz Grigsby I mentioned the example of the John Pounds Healthy Living Centre in Hampshire County, UK as a model for redoing it and the recreation center in the Long Branch area.

But we didn't have an extended discussion.

To be fair, the county recreation facilities have some of those elements. (It's too bad the Long Branch Rec. Center is "poorly located." cf.

Somewhere, I have a copy of an old Hampshire County publication that includes a deeper description.

Basically its part rec center part community center. It's all about co-location.

======This is from the Feb. entry on neighborhood libraries====

Pounds Centre/Hampshire County, UK. Includes a library, two spaces specifically designed and programmed for teens, athletic and fitness facilities, a publicly-accessible office for the local housing authority, a café which sources food locally and has catering operations, a small publicly-accessible laundry, day care, a dental clinic, multiple counseling programs, and offices for some community organizations, and wide ranging programming. Rooms can also be rented for private and public events.

But look at that piece, there are tons of great examples.

If you want to try to set up a meeting in TP with Roz, I'd be happy to talk to her with you.

On the other thing, the PL. 1. I should thank you, I don't think I really have, for sparking that whole line of thinking on Silver Spring. My original response was going to be pretty much focused on the idea of the sustainable mobility corridor and nothing more.

But I did a bunch of "field work" -- for a couple months -- and continued to think about it and then much more broadly, til it became what it became.

2. I am super proud of that work, both on SS and on the PL AND IT IS HAVING NO HEADWAY WHATSOEVER. No one I mention it to, discuss it with, send links to seem to be interested in wrestling with it.

I don't know what to do... (although I missed the deadline, sadly because I was sick, to submit a proposal to do a presentation on it at the MoCo suburban planning conference...)

(Because of this comment, I did send an email to MoCo planning to suggest I do a session in their speaker series)

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well as you probably remember from the FB vision sessions the homeless issue in the library was probably a driving force in some of the design decisions.

As someone who checks out books the new thing of "community room" and wasting your acquisition budgets on ebooks drives me old man crazy.

The other element missing in ALL dc libraries in writer development (maybe Georgetown?) which is a huge issue in DC - we have so many people writing books!

I've used the LOC for that when I need to isolate myself for a week and do a position paper.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

.... !!!!!!!

I mention the carrels at the SLC Main Library from time to time.

And for writer development, again SLC has the "Community Writing Center," a writing lab as a community program by the SL County Community College. They were invited into the upcoming new library by the then director.

the CWC is not a literacy program, it works with people who want to write.

Although not at the level of books. And frankly, I need a "community self help group" to help me with that.

There is the Writing Center in Bethesda. And like my suggestion of offering the Foundation Center free space in the Central Library in return for access to their collection and expanded hours, and some public programming, I'd do the same for the Writing Center.

The 826DC program, does some programs with high school students and writing. The charter school by my house did a book with them, featuring students of different cultures and recipes.

damn, I'm sorry I didn't buy a copy, it's sold out

My teacher friend in SLC has done programs in the book arts program at U of Utah and although she works with fourth graders, I've encouraged her to consider the 826DC example.

When Pyramid Atlantic Art Center--a book/paper arts program--had its issues with MoCO (the art center's fault) and lost its location in Silver Spring (they are now in Hyattsville) I suggested they be offered space in a library in DC.

The conference that the DC Renaissance Library did on homelessness and libraries was my idea. Although they seem to have forgotten that. It came out of the visioning.

And yes. The other thing though. I am not sure DCPL did a lot of the design for "the library." More that the building's owners did it. I need to double check.

Again, by not having good library program planners and rethinking libraries in the context of broader issues, that's what happens.

I am going to write a piece about "the new hospital" and I was thinking that TPAPs -- transformational projects action plans -- happen at two scales: broadly at the city or county scale; and within program planning for a specific project.

While pretty much we don't do the former in a concerted way, we definitely don't do the latter, which is why our projects aren't particularly innovative.

Really, what DCG public building project is truly deserving of a national award?

When I was writing the section about Dayton, I was thinking about that. Why did DC's neighborhood library project get picked as one of the top 100 design projects, and not Dayton's which is truly transformational?

good cooper hewitt blog entry on libraries mentions an arts space project in Brooklyn that I didn't know about, Spaceworks.

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Just like I think there should be an annual program like Park Pride of Atlanta's conference on parks, which brings local and national experts together every year

I mentioned to the DC Renaissance Library Project that there should be a similar conference on library planning, to up the game and awareness and knowledge base of what is possible.

It's tragic that we built all those libraries, and for the most part did very little in expanding what they could do.

At 2:54 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: University Library

It has been a while, but I think most of the University libraries restrict entrance (GULC did so for a long time) and lending privileges.

You can join as a member.

Again as condition of being a nonprofit entity in DC they should be forced to do so.

Again mostly meant to keep homeless people out.

At 6:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

1. I was thinking about this more, and you are absolutely right that there is no substantive "quiet area" at the West End Library, other than the small meeting-study rooms. That's a problem and a basic error in basic library planning.

All libraries tend to have both kinds of spaces, group-y type spaces like the big "reading room" although at a place like the UM Law Library or the NYPL 42nd St. branch, that room is quiet. Note that the WEL space is not dissimilar from those spaces physically.

2. I've been in most of the city's university libraries. Only GWU has the serious restrictions, that you have to a member if you are not part of the campus. I was for a time maybe 20 years ago.

Anyway they say they do that because business researchers would use the collection for free and not give any donations.

AU, CUA, GU let noncampus people in, you just have to show ID. Technically, at least years ago when I would go there more regularly, GU's rule was that noncampus people couldn't be in the lib. after midnite, but it's not like they would kick you out, because as long as you acted the part, you didn't stick out.

The libraries vary in terms of access to campus-specific computing library resources. CUA has a few computers by the check out desk that are open for use for noncampus. I don't remember the deal at GU. At AU if you go to the desk you can get a visitor account to use the computers while you're there, which is necessary if you're trying to access specific resources (e.g., AU's library e-journals seem to be the best of the collections that I've accessed wrt arts and culture).

Gallaudet you can go to too, it's a bit clunkier. HU didn't seem out of the ordinary. Been to UDC's library a couple times, once they were jerks, the other time no problem.

Oh, law libraries. GU is restricted, only people with bar cards can get in if they are noncampus. I think GWU might be the same. I just can't remember if I tried to get into either.

... in some of my past musings on library master planning, I argued you should create a master plan that lists all the library resources in your community.

I had the idea of a four layer graphic I think:

- city
- federal including Smithsonian, e.g. DCPL doesn't even know the Smithsonian art library is in the building next door
- university
- other (trade associations, etc.)

e.g., recently I learned from a brief in the WP Magazine there is a special Polish Library. (There is an interesting Catalan library in the second floor of a bookstore in Kensington's antique row.)

In the past I've used Foundation Center, Dept. of Ed. (now very hard to get access to, but it used to be by Union Station and very easy to access), and the Higher Ed. Lib. on Dupont Circle. Never tried to use US DOT or HUD. Nat. Ag. Lib. in Beltsville. Decades ago when I worked at CSPI, I think I went to the Nat. Lib. of Medicine at least once. And yes, LC but I go there less now that you can't print for free... The art library I mentioned, of course HSW.

... and I agree that DC should ensure citizen access to the u libraries as part of the campus planning process.

At 6:40 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

NYPL reading room:

Cook Law Library

I'm wrong, apparently the large meeting room is set up to be accessible separate from library hours.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Two great articles suggested by charlie:


At 1:14 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

There is a Journal of Radical Librarianship

And one of the Little Free Library projects are called "Action
Book Club(s)" where reading specific books is tied to group service projects



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