Why do all libraries look alike?

Why do all libraries look alike? I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation in class last week about why all libraries need to look alike. Our society gets great comfort when libraries look alike, and the stereotype that gives. There are many great libraries out there, and the grandeur of an old library is hard to ignore. For some reason, the design of the library gives a comfort, and is associated with intellect. It’s like what we talked about in class–the Starbucks affect.

And while I don’t doubt the positives, I wonder if the sameness is what’s holding the library back. We’ve been talking all semester how many people think libraries are only about books, you have to be quiet, and librarians just sit behind the computer, and just live for Dewey.

Not that I know much about marketing, but packaging, labels, designs are all effective ways to get a person to buy a product. Companies change designs over time to draw new audiences, and to re-brand. Maybe the sameness of the library does not allow for new perspective and change. If the library keeps staying the same, the patron who doesn’t know much about library services, why would they think things have changed over time? Of course, we know that libraries have changed in many ways, but maybe the sameness is hindering the public’s view of changes. I’m not saying we should radically change every structure, and it would be impossible to do so. But libraries need a new image.

Sameness lets you know what you expect. Like McDonalds. Same design all over the country. No matter how many changes McDonalds tries to make, no matter how many apple slices they offer, my opinion remains the same that the food is horrible for you. Obviously, I view libraries differently than just taking it for face value. But my opinion of McDonald’s hasn’t changed despite their changes. I have an existing view and per-conceived notions that are hard to change. Library patrons have per-conceived views as well, and despite changes it’s hard to change.

So is the design a hindrance or a help? Will the majority of people associate libraries with change, if we don’t change it? Or does appearance even matterĀ  when so many changes are happening already, and over time a new image will form?




On Friday, a group of us went to tour the Carnegie Library on campus. I really enjoyed the tour, and am excited to see how it will look after renovations!

One thing that I noticed, in relation to what we’ve been talking about in class, is the concept of space.The Reading Room, and work spaces are in temporary locations throughout the library because of the construction. The reference desk is placed in this small, cold looking hallway, that is narrow and awkward. That doesn’t stop them from doing a great job, I’m sure, but it really made me notice how valuable space is to be able to do everyday functions.

It was really amazing to see all of the stacks and reference material lined up on these green shelves, scaling all the way up the building. We walked up narrow stairs to wind up through the books. The librarian told us that those shelves could never be widened or removed because they are integral to the building’s structure. If they were taken down, the building would also fall down as well.

The library is building new math classroom spaces, which I think is a good use of the space by adding more spaces for those students to interact within the library. One thing that I found really interesting was their choice of where to put the reference desk. They are moving it to the middle part of the library. Basically, if someone wanted to browse through books in the new reading room, they would have to check out their books first before they could read them. She explained how, based on this library’s needs, most of the materials are online, so not many students browse. She also said that most students check out textbooks for two hours for their classes, and that’s mostly what they see, so this made the most sense for the use of the library. It was also interesting to hear about what they do with old journals, and to hear more about the storage facility.

I’m glad I got the opportunity to see a library mid renovations. I think this is something that many people don’t get to see. It was valuable to hear about the new changes, and why they made those decisions, all while keeping in mind the history of the building.

Librarians vs. Libraries

This weekend, I was watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and besides having “Moon River” stuck in my head all weekend, I couldn’t help but notice how this clip tied into the discussions we’ve been having about librarians:

Besides being grateful that we don’t have to sit and wait for our number to be called to get a book, elements of this antiquated view of libraries are still present today. I couldn’t help but notice that when Audrey Hepburn’s character, Holly, tried to have a conversation with the librarian and the book, the librarian shushed her.

The general public still has this idea of shushing rather than conversation. And people who hold this view still today, can’t really come to terms with the fact that libraries go beyond the physical building. I thought it was interesting in class last week when Professor Lankes mentioned that we are one of the only professions that are named after our building, and how most people take pride in that. Even in the clip when Holly and Paul walked into the library, the first thing she said was, “I don’t see any books.” Today, if we were to take out all the books and still call it a library, people would still ask where they were and be confused at why the librarians were calling themselves librarians, without the books.

I’m curious to see, in future films, if the stereotype of the librarian will change in any way. I would hope they would show her helping set up for a lunch business on the lawn (as we learned in class), interacting with students on a project, lead an instructional lesson or something that goes beyond standing behind a desk and silencing conversation. I think popular culture plays a big role in how we view librarians, and it’s hard to get past it.

I think to counteract that stereotype, and to create a new one, librarians like the ones Professor Lankes mentioned in class, need to be talked about more. Hopefully, patrons won’t leave saying that, “I don’t think this place is half as nice as Tiffany’s.” I mean, Tiffany’s is sort of hard to top, but we can try.

Breakfast At Tiffany’s. 1961. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GC64DJkM5YA.