Modern library design – where’s the mystery round the corner?

Yesterday I had a day off and decided to spend half of it in a pretty, very touristy little town not far from here. As always I planned to visit the local library and look for ideas to use in Langley (I love libraries).

It started badly. I popped into a little shop in the middle of town, bought a couple of things I didn’t need and asked where the library was. The young man laughed and said, “It’s right opposite but I don’t know where the entrance is! Afraid I’ve never been in.” I did find the entrance quite easily, although I’d missed it earlier, and the actual building is a beautiful historic one. But inside – what a disappointment!

I can’t say much about the children’s section as it was full of kids with a story and singing going on, which sounded fantastic. But the adult section left me cold. It was very clean and modern, with some low book shelves (they have to be low now for health and safety reasons), a few discreet book displays on small tables and some posters neatly pinned to noticeboards. You could see everything at a glance, which I suppose is meant to happen, but there was nothing to draw you in or tempt you to browse. There was no colour or mystery hiding round a corner. I went upstairs to have a look at the non-fiction but I took one look and walked out again because it was just the same up there!

Now, I know they want people to find things easily, and with fewer and fewer staff, that’s important, but don’t they realise that we want a bit of anticipation and adventure too? Garden designers are always talking about hiding things behind hedges to entice visitors to walk further and further into their gardens, so shouldn’t libraries be doing the same?

A lot of modern libraries manage to create beautiful, intriguing spaces with clean lines and fresh colour, so it can be done. It’s just that when it doesn’t work, you end up with a depressing place that nobody wants to visit.


4 thoughts on “Modern library design – where’s the mystery round the corner?

  1. Lobelia

    This is a very interesting point and it comes to me at a great time. The library I work at is currently constructing our new building and the interior isn’t very concrete yet but it does follow a more modern, ‘bookstore’ style model. I’ll keep in mind everything you said here about keeping the patron wanting to explore. When we finish our interior we will be certain to keep a sense of adventure intact.


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