The ‘Little Library’ in the Big Picture June 1, 2012 – Tags: , , , ,

OK everyone, put on your long read hat and settle in. Shannon Mattern has a must read essay on the Design Observer blog Places titled Marginalia: Little Libraries in the Urban Margins.

In it she looks at the recent rise of the mini, pop-up, guerrilla and ad-hoc library and tries “to figure out where they’re coming from, how they relate to existing institutions that perform similar roles, and what impact they’re having on their communities.”

“Nowadays we have libraries in phone booths and mailboxes, in public parks and train stations, in vacant storefronts and parking lots” says Mattern

Mattern also covers the various mobile libraries that are operating around the world, many of which have been covered at book patrol over the years.

The People’s Library, Zuccotti Park, New York City, November 12, 2011. [Photo by David Shankbone, via Flickr]

Mattern talks with nearly a dozen librarians from all parts of the library spectrum to get their take. Here are a few quotes:

In general, I find the phenomenon of pop-up or guerilla libraries to be a good thing because they seem to spring from both a love of print media and a DIY approach – two characteristics that I can relate to with my own work at the Reanimation Library…. My biggest problem is that all this has a tendency to water down the meaning of the word library. And at a time when many people are questioning the continued need for libraries, this is problematic. – Andrew Beccone founder of Reanimation Library

Pop-up libraries are “primarily about art and/or positive disruptions in public space and as such [are] fundamentally different from institutional libraries” – Melissa Morrone, librarian in New York.

 Many urban residents, especially children, do not have easy access to books and places to read outside of school. Bookstores are closing. Public libraries in many cities are underfunded. Electronic communication, video games, and online socializing are sapping more and more of our attention. We seem to be losing touch with books at the very moment, and in the very places, we need them the most. – from the website of The Uni: A  Portable Reading Room for Public Space

One common denominator that ties all these noble efforts together is that they “have the seed of a utopian vision at heart.”

However utopian these deeds are they “can’t help but raise big and important questions regarding the protocols of access, the ideals of knowledge and rules of intellectual property, the health of public institutions, the viability of public space and public life, and the definitions of civic values.”

Mattern is the author of The New Downtown Library: Designing With Communities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007). Her blog is Words in Space

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