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.

Friday, April 17, 2020

National Libraries Week, April 19th-25th

This entry was written long before the coronavirus pandemic came to pass, which led to the closure of public libraries across the US.

For the first time, I've checked out e-books, and I continue to use online articles databases.

The Atlantic published an article about the various services libraries are performing during the pandemic, "Our Towns: Public Libraries Respond to COVID-19."

Photo: Kristin Murphy, Salt Lake Deseret News.

While in Salt Lake City and County the libraries are closed, apparently libraries elsewhere while closed to the public are still performing services. 

For example, the library in Springville, Utah are still checking out and providing books to patrons ("Springville librarians going above and beyond to serve patrons during coronavirus outbreak," Salt Lake Deseret News). Returned books are wiped down and quarantined for 72 hours.

The New York Times reports that "Most Libraries Are Closed. Some Librarians Still Have to Go In." The article focuses on the concerns of librarians who worry that they could become infected.


-- National Library Week, April 19-25, American Libraries Association

Libraries as networks and nodes within a network of civic assets.  My general planning point about public libraries is that they should be operated as networks, they are typically the most visited civic asset within a community, outside of schools--where visitation tends to be limited to students and their families, and they should function also as community cultural centers.

The argument with examples is laid out here:

-- "Update: Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets," 2019

Montreal in particular has shaped my thinking on this.  I haven't been to libraries in Dayton, Ohio, but apparently they have a similar approach.

Salt Lake City's Central Library has a civic and cultural mixed use approach that is exemplary, and this has shaped the program of neighborhood libraries too.

SmartCities Dive makes a similar argument, in "The library is a smart city's 'hub for digital intelligence'," that libraries are trusted as spaces and for information.  Not so much recognized is that they are some of the only indoor public spaces that cities provide that residents can use and have access to.

Libraries as social infrastructure.  But really we're all making the same kind of point Eric Klinenberg makes in Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life about the value of community social infrastructure. From the NYT review:
In “Palaces for the People,” Eric Klinenberg offers a new perspective on what people and places have to do with each other, by looking at the social side of our physical spaces. He is not the first to use the term “social infrastructure,” but he gives it a new and useful definition as “the physical conditions that determine whether social capital develops,” whether, that is, human connection and relationships are fostered. Then he presents examples intended to prove that social infrastructure represents the key to safety and prosperity in 21st-century urban America.
Along these lines, The Atlantic "Our Town" series by James and Deborah Fallows ("Can America Put Itself Back Together?") has some pieces on libraries, "The Library Card," "When Libraries are Second Responders," and "College students want normal libraries"

Although having spent some time in the University of Utah Marriott Library lately, I'm thinking they're not exactly right at least about college libraries.

The library has booths on the side of one main hall, a material objects library, a section for leisure reading, zines, and periodicals, a bookshelf of games, of course a couple cafes--we never had an in-library cafe when I was in college, etc.

Goucher College's Athenaeum is an example I cited in my piece on mixed use libraries--it has a cafe, art gallery, student fitness center, the campus radio station and large public meeting spaces.

Individualism as anti-social infrastructure.  There is a disturbing op-ed in the New York Times, "In the Land of Self-Defeat," about a community battle in rural Arkansas over funding a librarian--many people thought she was to be paid too much money. From the article:
Since coming back, I’ve realized that it is true that people here think life here has taken a turn for the worse. What’s also true, though, is that many here seem determined to get rid of the last institutions trying to help them, to keep people with educations out, and to retreat from community life and concentrate on taking care of themselves and their own families. It’s an attitude that is against taxes, immigrants and government, but also against helping your neighbor. ...

I didn’t realize it at first, but the fight over the library was rolled up into a bigger one about the library building, and an even bigger fight than that, about the county government, what it should pay for, and how and whether people should be taxed at all. The library fight was, itself, a fight over the future of rural America, what it meant to choose to live in a county like mine, what my neighbors were willing to do for one another, what they were willing to sacrifice to foster a sense of community here.

The answer was, for the most part, not very much.
While I do believe that it is possible to rebuild the sense of community even though it has pretty much been destroyed by neoliberalism and what I think of as the anarcholibertarianism of the Republican Party, and I have empathy for people in rural areas dealing with various issues, I don't have much sympathy for people who are so adamantly against supporting and paying for the social infrastructure that maintains community (e.g., "Missing the most important point about closing Clifton School" and "Rethinking community planning around maintaining neighborhood civic assets and anchors").

Interesting library stories over the past year

1.  Many libraries are ending fines.  Too many examples to cite.  While Salt Lake City Library is one of them, Salt Lake County Library is not.

2.  Hours ... and holidays and summers.  More library systems are ensuring there are at least some branches open every day.  I've never understood why "citizen facing" public facilities like libraries and recreation centers are closed on federal holidays like Presidents Day.

In the past couple years, DC Public Library has begun having a branch open in every ward on such days ("Select Libraries Open on Five Holidays"). Along the same lines, in Montgomery County, Maryland, in the summer, certain libraries across the system are open later on Friday and Saturday nights ("Montgomery County Public Libraries Add Hours at Five Branches During Summer Months").

But many systems continue to be under funded, such as in Toronto ("They’re the ‘beating hearts’ of the city’s neighbourhoods. So why are Toronto’s public libraries still chronically underfunded?," Toronto Star), which mean limited hours overall, let alone being open on Sundays, holidays, or later in the summer.

3.  Libraries lend more than books.  I've written in the past about how the Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake County library systems have programs where people can get a month-long pass enabling free admission to local museum and cultural resources.  New York City's public libraries have joined together to offer a similar program called the Culture Pass.

The Boston Globe has an article about the expanding programs of public libraries around materials and functions ("Prom dresses, cake pans, and power tools: Welcome to the new public library").

4. Co-location of facilities by different agencies.  The Brooklyn Historical Society is merging with the Brooklyn Public Library, in part to provide more space for the library's historical collection, but also to provide more stable funding to the BHS, which has awesome exhibits.

Ottawa, Canada is about to begin construction of a joint Central Library and Archives with Archives Canada ("Modern concept signals next chapter for Ottawa ‘super library’," Toronto Globe & Mail).  Joint library projects between government agencies are highly unusual.

Heretofore, the only two I know about are in Montreal, where the provincial library serves as the central library for the city, and in San Jose, California, the city and San Jose State University built a joint library.

Both of these examples remind me of how the State of Maine has a combined state library, archives, and museum, which I wrote about in 2005 ("Central Library Planning efforts and the City Museum, how about some learning from Augusta, Maine ... and Baltimore?").

5. Community lending libraries.  Of course there is the Little Free Library movement.

Libros Schmibros Lending Library (photo at left) is in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, a Latino neighborhood that is experiencing and contesting gentrification.

The library specializes in Hispanic-related titles ("Libros Schmibros receives colorful makeover for Los Angeles's Boyle Heights space," Architect's Newspaper).

18 Reasons is a community nonprofit in San Francisco, created by Bi-Rite Market and focused on food, nutrition and community.  One of their programs is a cookbook lending library.

Los Angeles also has the Free Black Women’s Library, a mobile pop-up library and community for black women ("The Free Black Women’s Library amplifies the voices of female African American writers," Los Angeles Times).

A 2016 protest at the Carnegie library in south London in response to the borough's proposal to close and redevelop local libraries.  Photograph: David Rowe/Alamy Stock Photo.

6.  Transit facilities and library joint programs.  In the past I've mentioned how some local library systems install book machines at transit stations.  Calgary has done this.  There is a book vending machine at the train station in Anaheim, California.

I've seen Little Free Libraries or their equivalent outside the Anacostia Metrorail Station in DC (using an old newspaper vending machine) and at the Highbury & Islington Underground Station in London (where I picked up a copy of John Lanchester's Capital, after having seen the mini-series on PBS).

In Washington State, the North Olympic Library System and the Clallam Transit System have joined together to create the Read & Ride program.

(Although I get "bus sick" reading on the bus) the program puts books and magazines on buses, for passengers to read while riding ("Books, magazines now available to read on Clallam Transit routes," Peninsula Daily News).

Along these lines, to promote reading for a few years I've had the idea that "digital advertising programs" displaying ads in bus shelters and transit stations could also display the front page and section page of local newspapers within the feed, not unlike how the now closed Newseum displayed front pages from newspapers across the country.  (While the Newseum is closed now, they still collate and display the day's front pages.)

But libraries could do what the Newseum did anyway.

Digital ad displayed on Anacostia Metrorail Station platform
Digital ad kiosk in the Anacostia Metrorail Station.

This should include community newspapers and other publications.

7.  At least one state university library allows state residents to get a library card and check out books: the University of Utah.  Pretty cool.  It's limited to 5 books.  But by paying for an annual pass ($100) it's pretty much unlimited.

8.  The library system in Brampton, Ontario opened a new branch ("Brampton’s Springdale library: In the suburbs, public architecture reaches for the sky," Toronto Globe & Mail). From the article:
When I walked through the doors – just before the library closed temporarily at the onset of COVID-19 – the building revealed itself as a lively social space. There are sunlit study rooms, a children’s area, desktops ready for gaming, and comfy chairs in which to read the Punjabi Tribune.

The building’s architecture, by Toronto-based RDHA, frames this activity with spaces that stir the mind. A ribbon of shimmering sheet steel and striped glass wraps all this activity, and the building caps it off with round skylights that coax the sky inside. Both spare and welcoming, it’s a building that invites intellectual inquiry and hanging out. ...

It embodies the new library agenda of clarity. “Libraries have reduced their physical collections, and that’s opened up the question: how can they use their spaces and what kind of new services can be provided?” says Tyler Sharp, design director at RDHA and the lead architect of the building.
According to The Architect ("Springdale Library & Komagata Maru Park"), the library is integrated with a park, like West Hollywood, California, and to some extent, the library in Park City, Utah. 

DC's Francis Gregory Library is set alongside a park, but isn't integrated with it although some of the windows were placed to take advantage of the view. OTOH, DC's Woodridge Library completely ignores the possibilities of connecting to the adjoining Langdon Park and Recreation Center.

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At 9:58 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, SC holds a children's writing camp during summer break.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Book banning in a school district in Alaska.

At 12:32 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...


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