Message - Re: Library design

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Posted by  Jim on July 15, 2003 at 09:05:32:

In Reply to:  Re: Library design posted by balkan on July 15, 2003 at 07:38:06:

Libraries will probably always be with us in one form or another, and that includes the public ones. While the nature of libraries will change under the influence of changing technology and new security concerns, they will still come to exist in 3rd World countries just as in the rest of the world. They may be smaller, but the electronic revolution in storing information, the Internet and other electronic sources may well make virtually ALL of mankinds' libraries available on-line. There is a challenge to design for this, and the American Library Association ( does have a list of titles of publications on this subject of building libraries that you can buy from them. You might also pick a title on the list below that is of interest to you and type it into the site to see if it is available for less money there. Here is the link:

Those outside of the USA can no doubt adapt a great deal from the many books listed on that site and help you to design for the future. How will libraries look? Aside from budgetary limitations, the buildings in other lands will no doubt look either a lot like the post Modernist designs found in the Western World, or they will take on a version of the vernacular architecture common to each land. Even a giant hut of bamboo columns and a roof of palm fronds can have benches inside with computer terminals on top, so the 'look' may be much different in any one locale. Indeed, the look for a library is not much determined by function, since the function of a library is primarily storage and public spaces, neither of which have established 'form follows function' patterns, in that a warehouse or an office building could also serve as models. True, the trend in today's libraries in the USA is to lots of glass to let in light, often with an atrium of fountain and plants to soften and led ecological 'relevence' to the space. The difficulties that really encounter the architect apart from budgetary limitations -- which are ALWAYS with us! -- is that of trying to make the space workable from the standpoint of reduced staffs needed to keep theft and vandalism to a minimum, and that need to isolate the sounds of multi-media areas from study and pure reading areas where quiet is needed. Partition walls do not help in the visual security aspect, but do isolate sound, and are much better in preventing the spread of fires. I believe that it is the National Association of Fire Chiefs (USA) or the National Fire Protection Association (USA) that has a doctrinal publication on the hazards of designing large areas with no means to rapidly stop a fire. From the libraries' standpoint, however, the containment of fire is not as important as the means to stop it, in view of the fact that automatic water sprinkler systems do stop fires, but in a library can cause more damage than the fire! Therefore the most important areas peculiar to libraries might be said to be the following:

1) Adequate STORAGE for all the various media, while trying to anticipate the different types to appear in future.
2) WIRING (optical, metal, RF?) for technological advances in future, including a secure, and fire-safe area for computer servers and other electronics. Check to make sure of the 100-year flood statistics to make sure your site is on HIGH ground; flooding is fatal to libraries.
3) SECURITY in both the traditional senses of the building, but also of the collections from theft during open hours and just how surveillance against this is to be accomplished. Does this rule out fire/security partitions or ceiling-high shelving? How high must the ceiling be to allow visual surveillance without being so high as to create a "chimney effect" in promoting the spread of a fire?
4) FIRE SPREAD PREVENTION (since it is almost impossible to stop the starting of a fire, especially if arson -- which does happen to libraries too!) Is a Halon gas system legal or practical (it will not damage books or electronics and one can breathe it long enough to escape, something which cannot be said for carbon dioxide systems.) Is there a provision for automatic smoke vents at the highest part of the ceiling so as to reduce smoke damage? Does the HVAC system shut down automatically when a smoke detector sounds off and triggers the fire suppresssion system?

I am familiar with many libraries, and I like the design of one in a Milwaukee suburb, West Allis, WI, done as a long building with a two-story portion on one end having a public meeting room and lavatories on the first floor and the libraries' offices above with a two-story high atrium with fountain glassed-in at top, and the remaining portion of the building being single story entering on the opposite side of the atrium. This portion has a partial second story containing only the children's library (sound isolation! and greater security for the toddlers from wayward adults) with a glass wall above waist height to overlook the main adult area below (so kiddie can see mommy down there and not panic). The area under this is the check-out area where things are noiser, so only the casual magazines area is close by, and as one goes further down the room, one comes to the catalog area, multi-media area, and progressively quieter into the reference and study (carrells) area and then finally to the Open Stacks area. This library has no basement, hence no Closed Stacks, and therefore has a decided limit on the storage space available (magazines are kept for only one year, for example). Microforms of some of them are available, but there is space for only 4 readers/printers of microforms. Some of that space was usurped by the advent of public access computer desks, most of them connected to the Internet, using a community printer. It is not a perfect library, but the atmosphere is nice in this 1989 building which replaced one of the Carnegie Libraries referred to earlier, just two blocks away (it is now a housing block for the elderly, called 'Library Square.') and it is popular with the locals, especially since there is a major Federal Repository Library in downtown Milwaukee, about 10 miles away, as well as two large university libraries somewhat open to the public, and many school libraries in the area.

Hope this is of some help.

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