Next week I’m giving two talks — one on “the future of the library” in a colleague’s undergraduate “intro to media studies” lecture class, and another on “Conceptual Units: How Our Knowledge Institutions Materialize Intellectual and Cultural Values” for the “Media, Materiality, Infrastructure” workshop convened by Nicole Starosielski and Arjun Appadurai at NYU. I ultimately realized that I couldn’t create two separate presentations on top of all my regular class prep and meetings — so I wrote a talk that’ll serve both purposes. I’m calling it “Intellectual Furnishings”: it proposes that we think about the literal furniture of our knowledge institutions — and how those material objects inform how we organize our media, structure our thoughts, and cultivate our values. I’ll post my slides immediately below, and the text — with all my slide-change cues — below that.
I organized a workshop on “Spaces of Media Access, Making and Learning” for the 2014 Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Seattle — and today we found out we’re in! I look forward to chairing the discussion among Anne Balsamo, Paulina Mickiewicz, Jentery Sayers, and Patrik Svensson (and me) in March! Here’s our proposal:
Noted British architecture/landscape writer Ken Worpole recently published a fantastic book on library design, and he was kind enough to have his publisher, Routledge, send me a copy. Contemporary Library Architecture: A Planning and Design Guide offers a pithy and helpful overview of the library’s civic and informational functions, how those functions (and others) are embodied and supported by architecture, and what libraries must take into consideration in the design process. I’m really pleased to see that Ken has cited my own work quite frequently in the book. He wrote me a couple years ago to mention how useful he found my libraries book while researching his own, and I’m stoked to be in such illustrious company.
In other news, the Architectural League of New York has released a video documenting its Little Free Library | NYC competition, for which I served on the jury. You’ll see me, with my crazy windblown hair, in the video; the video’s lovely — but of course I encourage you to look away for those awkward moments when I’m on-screen. The libraries are on view at ten sites around Manhattan through September 1.
I apologize: the luminous image above is only a teaser. I won’t be talking about the network stack, although it certainly does have an aesthetics of its own. As Rory Solomon (full disclosure: he’s my thesis advisee) pointed out in his recent talk at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, there are myriad models for representing “the stack” in all its permutations — the network stack, the application stack, the function stack, etc. — yet they all commonly adopt some variation on the “comforting pale blue systems diagram.”
I’m talking about a stack of another variety: the book stack. It’s not unlike the network stack, though, in that it, too, is a material-epistemic infrastructure. The fact that there have been numerous aesthetic explorations of the book stack in recent years suggests that this once-invisible piece of furniture has finally drawn attention to itself: perhaps because its shelves are emptying, as some folks switch to ebooks; or because those committed to the physical stack and its physical inhabitants are wondering how to rethink, reinvigorate, our systems for organizing, housing, and facilitating access to books.
I’ve seen a few stack-related exhibitions in the past two weeks. I’ll address two here, and a third in a follow-up post.
First, “Brother, Can You Space a Stack?,” at the Center for Books Arts, “presents thirteen art projects that re-imagine the library as a force for social change. Each project constructs a micro library of sorts that serves specific economic or social needs within the community.” I addressed a few of the projects on display here in my “little libraries” article (which those of you who read this blog regularly — anyone?, anyone? — are probably sick of hearing about). All, however, place triple emphasis on the material book, the places those books inhabit (which become public places by virtue of the books’ presence and the gathering of people around them), and the forms of social connection they generate. I have to admit, the wall texts were a bit too intense to read in situ, so I’ll wait to purchase the exhibition catalogue to learn more about the projects I’m not already familiar with.
Second, Airan Kang’s “Luminous Words” at Bryce Wolkowitz was a rather uncanny experience for me: what I encountered was essentially my library – seriously: I own at least 70% of the books represented here — rendered in “digital lighting” and LED paintings. These hybrid analog/digital art objects are an obvious representation of the analog-to-digital transition of book-objects — or, as explained on the press release, this work constitutes Kang’s “exploration into the ontology and evolution of the book as a source of knowledge in the digital era.”
I appreciate the different approaches to stacking represented in the three variations on the theme we see above: the stack as bricks in a wall; the stack as variably arranged units of illumination or enlightenment; and the stack as precarious tower — each representing a different take on the state of the book as material object. The subject matter of these books is interesting, too; nearly all are art, theory, urbanism, and architecture books — some of which are among the “genres” best able to justify their continued existence in glossy, oversized print form.
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Before moving on, in the next post, to my third stack-related exhibition, I want to note two non-stack-related shows we saw on the same day we visited the two above — both of which nevertheless highlight themes present in the more book-centric exhibitions: particularly, the material text, historical transitions, social responsibility, and loss. Miroslaw Balka’s “The Order of Things,” at Gladstone, is a “monumental work that draws on historical tragedy to reflect on the limits of the world, continuity, and catastrophe.” Pipes, woven through the ceiling beams, spew a viscous black liquid into two tetrahedral Cor-Ten tubs. Experiencing this work — which felt, for me, very Ellsworth-Kelly-meets-Richard-Serra-meets-Anselm-Kiefer — was a tremendously visceral experience: it felt cold and damp, and it smelled like a mixture of metal and oil. It was like being locked in a room with a huge, imposing embodiment of decay and waste. At least that’s how I read — or, rather, felt – it. Read more about Balka’s show here.
We also saw John Mann‘s “Folded in Place,” lovely photographs of “cartographic objects” (my term) at Daniel Cooney. Mann takes maps and restores to them the third dimension of space that is removed when we make collapse space into a flat representation. But then the photographs of these folded, bent, and flagged objects reduce them once again to two dimensions.
Finally, a slight map-related tangent: check out the interesting infrastructural hieroglyphics I encountered on the Franklin Ave. subway platform last week:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this Underground Library project, developed by a group of students from the Miami Ad School, referenced in various magazines and blogs over the past several days (recent appearances include Atlantic Cities and the Paris Review blog). The concept is quite clever; as Co.Design explains it:
Subway smartphone users swipe at a special poster promoting a curated selection of books on offer, after which the first 10 pages will be automatically downloaded to their mobile device in an easy-to-read ePub or PDF format. Once they reach their stop and emerge aboveground, a map will pop up and direct them to the nearest available NYPL branches to nab the physical copy.
Options for technically realizing such a project (the proposed solution is Near-Field Communication) are addressed and debated in the Co.Design article and on Vimeo. A very similar project was proposed last year — by Vodafone — for the Victorei metro station in Bucharest: users could download selections from a curated collection of books and audiobooks, but rather than being directed to access the complete texts in the public library, users were pushed to the website for Humanitas, a book publisher.
Of course subway libraries aren’t new. We’ve got analog versions here in New York, and in Madrid and Stockholm. Plus, I’m sure some cities and towns are using some form of book vending machine in transit stations.
[Update 4/1: The Philadelphia Free Library announced a QR code-based virtual library at its Suburban Station platforms.]
Also worth a mention is Ourit Ben-Haim’s Underground New York Public Library, “a photo series featuring the Reading-Riders of the NYC subways”; the photos themselves are meant to coalesce as a “visual library.” (See this article about the project in the American Reader. Ben Haim’s work reminds me a lot of Adrian Tomine‘s illustrations of transit-reading.)
All the aforementioned examples are potential case studies for libraries considering more nimble, responsive modes and spaces of service (yes, I’ve written about this before.) But getting back to the project du jour: the NFC Underground Library: as much as I’m charmed by the project itself, I can’t help but be a little irked by the pitch that establishes its context:
Ever since the creation of the Internet, the use of public libraries has been on a decline. Now, with the invention of smart devices, people can learn about anything, anywhere. Well, almost anywhere. …[T]he Internet still does not work underground…
Ah, the converging myths of (1) ubiquitous Internetization of the entirety of the human cultural record and (2) universal public access! The false assumptions about public library use! These misconceptions are dispiritingly prevalent. Quite a few similar “nimble library” or “library outpost” proposals rely on similar false premises, as I’ve written about here:
At a time when digital information is replacing almost every kind of printed document, iPhones, iPads, Kindles and other similar portable devices have become books.
Many people would regard it as an anachronism to think that a library could still have any relevance as an architectural typology in the face of the digital upheaval that has changed the ways we approach information and objects, transforming entire industries, such as the video, music and printing industries.
With the advent of the internet…all of the world’s knowledge is available instantly to anyone who desires it.
We can celebrate these inventive projects without buying their false premises. As I wrote earlier, it’s understandable that the creators of these projects, and those who review them, would want to “ascribe some historical and cultural significance” to the transit or pop-up library “by suggesting, say, that a team of up-and-coming designers [or a group of entrepreneurs, or a telecom behemoth] has revolutionized a thousands-of-years-old institution by proposing a new program and making it mobile [and/or subterranean]; or by painting a really bleak picture of the status quo, to which your featured design offers an alternative.” But why do that? Why not acknowledge the realities — of information access, of library service, of the state of urban infrastructures — within which your proposed project operates? After all, if you’re promoting public reading, why not show that you’re doing a little homework yourselves — that you know your context?
Today I read the New Yorker feature on Bjake Ingels (whom we discuss in my Media + Architecture class in our lesson on comics, and who, as was mentioned a couple times in the article, was the subject of the first issue of CLOG). The piece mentioned Ingels’s work on the design for the Seattle Public Library, which, as anybody reading this probably already knows, was the subject of my dissertation — and a big part of my book. Anyway, it got me thinking about Koolhaas’s other library and educational space designs. So I went back to a draft of my pre-dissertation lit review and dug out the section in which I look at OMA’s previous library projects. The writing itself is rather embarrassing (I take everything at face value, and I quote way too much!), but it was still interesting, for me at least, to revisit these projects — to see how concepts and forms are shared between the various sites, to consider how they foreshadowed the Seattle Public Library, and to examine how they individually and collectively represented a particular turn-of-the-21st-century epistemology.
Please don’t judge; I was a 23-year-old fool when I wrote this (in 2000).
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[I first talked about the Educatorium @ Utrecht; the Kunsthal in Rotterdam; the Grand Palais in Lille, France; and the Nederlands Dans Theater in The Hague.]
…His current commissions include a concert hall in Porto, Portugal; a student center on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology; three U.S. stores for Prada, the Italian fashion designer; the Dutch Embassy in Berlin; Guggenheim galleries for the Venetian resort in Las Vegas; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and plans for the development of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the cultural district around the Brooklyn Museum of Art. These new projects range from civic and educational architecture to exhibition and commercial architecture to urban planning. The variety allows for—and promises—a great deal of cross-pollination. In a preview of the Las Vegas Guggenheim project, the Las Vegas Business Press (October 2, 2000) raises the question of a “commercial entity using a nonprofit museum as a tourist draw” (p. 1). Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, raises another: “How does architecture assert its value in [Las Vegas,] a world saturated by manipulative advertising and mass-market entertainment?” (p. F1).
The Unbuilt: OMA’s Libraries
Koolhaas has addressed similarly provocative questions in his previous designs—particularly in those designs that have never been built. One question he has explored in a few projects is how to house information in the digital age, or how information structures architecture in the digital age. Koolhaas’s unrealized plans for the Library at Jussieu University in Paris; the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, also in Paris; and the Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM), a “mediatheque” in Karlsruhe, Germany, show how OMA has become “specialists (in library design) without having built one” (Goldsmith, May 27, 1999, ¶23). Unfortunately, because there are no physical structures to tour, the Seattle Library Board missed the opportunity to explore OMA’s three conceptualized pseudo-libraries.
Yet these three projects in particular convey Koolhaas’s “fear of repetition” and his aversion to “the whole idea of a typology” (Zaera Polo, 1992a, p. 20). As is evident in these three projects, Koolhaas is instead “interested in invention,” in “shocking or provoking” (Zaera Polo, 1992a, p. 18). Architecture critic Michael Speaks (July 2000) explains the “real significance” of OMA’s inventive architecture:
Problem solving simply accepts the parameters of a problem given by society or, in the case of architecture, by the client. The object of design is then to work within those parameters until a solution to the problem is reached, a final design. This is how “the art of architecture,” traditionally represented by cultural institutions such as the Pritzker Prize [which Koolhaas won in 2000], and indeed by much of the architectural establishment, approaches the dramatic changes thrown up by the forces of globalization. Innovation…works by a different, more entrepreneurial logic where, by rigorous analysis, opportunities are discovered that can be exploited and transformed into innovations (p. 92).
OMA has even opened a New York based office dedicated solely to “virtual architecture”—that is, “designs or redesigns of human environments that don’t resort to the tools of the construction industry” (Wolf, June 2000). “My ambition,” says Koolhaas, “is to modernize and reinvent the profession by making use of our expertise in the unbuilt….” (Wolf, June 2000).
Koolhaas’s and OMA’s methodology for invention involves linking an architectural form to “a whole range of associations: mechanical, industrial, utilitarian, abstract, poetical, surrealist…” (Wortmann, 1993, p. 22). He considers the social, cultural, economic, and technological conditions in which a project must function—and allows those conditions to inform his design. Zaera Polo (1992b) claims that OMA’s recent work “tests a redefinition of temporal and spatial paradigms through material practices. It initiates a new approach to architecture as the discipline of material organization within post-capitalism” (p. 32).
How do the social, cultural, economic, and technological conditions of a digital, global, post-capitalist system influence each of his library designs? Ayad Rahmani (Winter 2000), architecture professor at Washington State University, argues that Koolhaas is brilliantly capable of “synthesizing the metaphors of the electronic age, namely the idea of the Web, with the need to make for a new structural expression”—especially for the library—“in architecture” (p. 26).
Libraries, Sorbonne University, Jussieu, France
Koolhaas’s design for the Jussieu Library considers both the urban condition and the state of information. The project entailed constructing two libraries and several communal facilities for the Jussieu campus of the Sorbonne University, which had been unfinished since 1968. As Koolhaas explains, “Our task was to create a lively public domain, to integrate the campus into the city and to turn it into an urban experience” (Harbort, 1993, p. 81). The building was to integrate the university’s science library, its humanities library, and an existing parvis, or enclosed courtyard. In the June 1993 edition of ARCH+, Hans Harbort describes the design:
The science library with its relatively large proportion of closed storage areas is partly sunk beneath ground level, with the freely accessible storage facilities of the humanities library above. Both libraries are separated by the entrance and reception area, which is part of the urban axis linking the Metro station with the River Seine. This realm of social activities extends into the lower library in the shape of a double helix, forming an entrance to the conference center adjoining the library. This double helix of the lower part of the building consists of two elements: the vie sociale, a ramp with cafeteria, auditorium and squash courts, and the series of ramps serving the science library. Both of these ramps intertwine in one and the same space without touching…. The individual superimposed floor levels of the building are cut and deformed in such a way as to connect with the next level above and below, forming a continuous circuit which winds through the entire building like a meandering boulevard lined with all the elements of the library like houses lining a street…. The visitor becomes a flaneur who is seduced by the world of books and information, of urbanist situations such as plazas, parks, monumental stairways, cafes, boutiques, etc., which supplement the program of the two libraries (Harbort, p. 81).
Why should the science library include so many closed storage areas, while the humanities library affords free access to its materials? What does the placement of the building’s elements—the science library rooted in the ground with the humanities library above—say about the nature of scientific knowledge and about the knowledge of human constructs? Why should the social areas of the building extend into the research areas in the form of a double helix? What does this double helix structure, the structure of DNA, say about the social or educational functions of the library? Why should the building’s floors be integrated into a “continuous circuit?” What does this continuity say about the division of knowledge into classes and disciplines? Why should the “continuous circuit” winding throughout the library resemble an urban street? Why is the visitor regarded as a flaneur, and why should he or she be “seduced” by books and information? How does flanerie impact one’s mode of inhabiting the library space and the uses one makes of the space? What does this act of seduction say about the nature of knowledge and the processes of knowledge acquisition? Is the library obligated to play a role in this seduction? Has the library outgrown its role as a storehouse for knowledge and become a purveyor of info-tainment? These are among the questions that the Jussieu design raises.
Sanford Kwinter (1992) asserts that “all of OMA’s recent urbanist work is about the setting into motion of dynamic self-regulating and self-driving informational ecologies” (p. 85). What kind of an informational, or media, ecology is “set into motion” at Jussieu? According to Alejandro Zaera Polo (1992b), partner of Foreign Office Architects in London and Tokyo, the Jussieu library embodies “the change of phase between diverse states of information: from the solid phase of storage to the liquid state in its active phase. …The amount of information is inversely proportional to the structure of the system” (p.45). In other words, more information is available in less structured systems. It follows that the most information-rich environments are those with relatively open, flexible floor plans and open access to their resources. Koolhaas proposed such an open plan for Jussieu. Instead of using fixed walls within the library, Koolhaas used movable and removable partitions, walls, and curtains to differentiate between open and intimate spaces (“Office for Metropolitan Architecture: Two Libraries,” Autumn 1993). As one author explains, these differentiated spaces serve not as a collection of rooms, but as a “series of incidents”—“and because every floor has different incidents, there is also a kind of identity for each floor. It is no longer simply a library but rather a system with many different components” (Harbort, 1993, p. 81).
This notion of architecture “as a series of incidents” is an important part of Koolhaas’s design philosophy. According to Herbert Muschamp (February 25, 2001) of the New York Times, “Koolhaas excels in conveying the idea that architecture is an art of organizing urban relationships, not the styling of discrete objects in space” (p. 42). Koolhaas’s approach to design lies somewhere between architecture and urban planning. He claims allegiance to a “New Urbanism”—a term Koolhaas uses to refer to a design method concerned not with “the arrangement of more or less permanent objects but with the irrigation of territories with potential”; a method aiming not for “stable configurations but for the creation of enabling fields that accommodate processes that refuse to be crystallized into definitive form”; a method not about “separating and identifying identities, but about discovering unnamable hybrids”; a method obsessed “with the manipulation of infra-structure for endless intensifications and diversifications”; a method committed to “the reinvention of psychological space” (Koolhaas, Winter/Spring 1995, p. 19).
In creating “psychological spaces” instead of buildings and rooms, Koolhaas focuses more on the human experience of space than on the autonomous existence of the space itself. In fact, he approaches architectural design in much the same way that a filmmaker approaches cinema. In an interview with Arthur Lubow (July 9, 2000) of the New York Times Magazine, Koolhaas, a former screenwriter, explains that architecture, like film, involves the design of “episodes” and “montage” (p.37). “It’s very scripted, the way people move and the possibilities he leaves for people in his buildings,” his partner, artist Madelon Vriesendorp, acknowledges. “The experiences are laid out…. He sees a space and he sees what could happen—a scene in space” (Lubow, July 9, 2000, p. 37). At Jussieu, the library is more than a building; it is an experience—a research experience, an informational experience, an urban experience. And in the design process, Koolhaas is more concerned with negotiating the experience, or the empirical functioning, of the library—and hence its “operative” ideology—than in redefining the institution linguistically. As Zaera Polo (1992b) explains, “OMA’s…work seems to indicate a new beginning with a basis that is not linguistic or textual experimentation, but the proposal of a series of geographies or topographies whose meaning is fundamentally operative rather than significant” (p. 35). Although the negotiation process itself often requires establishing a linguistic or textual articulation of the ideas, ideals, and values embodied in a design, the physical building provides an “operative” embodiment of those ideologies.
Furthermore, in OMA’s projects, according to Kwinter (1992), “the argument always takes precedent over the project” (pp. 84-5). He explains:
In other words, there is always primarily an engine, be it discursive or diagrammatic, never a design that is introduced in the urban milieu to be reconfigured. It is never a question of organizing a space at the outset, but rather of unleashing, triggering, or capturing larger and already existing processes (Kwinter, 1992, pp. 84-5).
One of these “larger and already existing processes” is human movement, or existing circulation patterns. Consequently, another key concept explored in, or another “engine” that is driving, Koolhaas’s design for Jussieu is that of circulation. As Harbort (1993) maintains, the 1.5-km long boulevard winding throughout the building at a two- to four-percent slope provides for an “urbanist” means of movement—but the library’s elevators and escalators offer movement of another sort.
If the architectonic movement of the ramps is indeterminate and ambling, the mechanical movement of the elevators and escalators is linear and determinate. Together these two types of connections form a complex network of spatial relationships, a variety of different paths through the building (Harbort, 1993, p. 81).
These two methods of movement symbolize two means of information gathering. The “meandering boulevard” fosters a “flaneurial” type of information gathering. Visitors may stroll through the stacks and browse through the titles on display. In the process, they may find themselves “seduced” by flashy book covers or computer interfaces—or they may discover interesting resources through serendipity. The direct route made possible by elevators and escalators allows for a “linear and determinate” means of movement throughout the building; as Zaera Polo (1992b) acknowledges, “it was always the revolutionary potential of the elevator to introduce a new era of liberated and randomized relationships between different components of a building” (p. 68). But inside a library this transportation technology also fosters also a “linear and determinate” approach to research. The visitor can enter search terms into a computer database, identify a resource that he or she wishes to access, and then take the elevator directly to the floor where that book is shelved—with no wandering or exploration en route. He or she retrieves the material, takes the elevator back downstairs to circulation, checks out his or her book, and departs. The elevator thus makes possible a “new era of liberated and randomized relationships between different” resources in a library, too (Zaera Polo, 1992b).
The ephemeralization of information, the increasing speed and quantity of information, and the challenges of accessing and sifting through that information—all are among the “social, political, economic and technological disruptions wrought by globalization” (Speaks, July 2000, p. 92). And according to Koolhaas, his work is “aligned with the forces of modernization and the inevitable transformations that are engendered by this [modernizing] project which has been operating for 300 years” (Lootsma, January 1998, p. 40). His design for Jussieu is in part a response to the speed of information and to the disintegration of the city center. The library becomes a city—a social network—in and of itself.
It is the “center of gravity” on campus and within its greater urban setting (Harbort, 1993, p. 81). The library sits at the convergence of several circulatory routes: the parvis, which runs through the building, is connected in the south with the Metro station and in the north with the Seine. In addition, the library serves as a focal point for the region south of the Seine. The entire building is enclosed in an envelope of overlapping, irregularly shaped “shingles” of tinted glass. Again, Harbort (1993) explains the unique visibility afforded by this glass skin:
The interior of this urban building can be read from the outside like an x-ray photograph, revealing the dialectic between the regularly spaced needle columns and the irregularly deformed floor levels. Floating within this structure are various enclosed volumes: reading rooms, separated studies, the cabins of the hydraulic elevators, book repositories, etc. Looking from the Institut du Monde Arabe, the building appears so transparent as to be almost invisible. If the building thus seems to dissolve when seen along the green axis (gardens along the river), it shows a stronger presence along the urban axis, facing the city (p. 82).
The library’s visage thus depends upon the perspective of its beholder. This dynamic appearance conveys both a sensitivity to context—that is, an attempt to make the structure harmonize with its natural and urban surroundings—and an awareness of the dynamic nature of the institution itself. The building’s varying opaqueness and transparency could even symbolize the two kinds of resources—digital and physical—held within.
Takeo Higashi (Summer 1993) addresses the compound identity of the Jussieu library—and how that identity can be embodied in a physical form:
What sort of image, and what basic functions should the library, with its massive stock of books, possess? The information processing activity of symbolizing and classifying books, which possess their own microcosmos, and further simply arranging them, specifies the architectural program itself. The virtual space of a vast and transparent information matrix is created here. A physical space indispensable to the life of the campus, the library is also a communication space for people on campus. The pliant human body, the space of the gardens that receives and terminates the circulation flow, and the hard edge of the city as a perceptual information space all come together here (pp. 92-3).
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, Competition Entry
Koolhaas again plays with the ideas of the virtual and the physical, solids and voids in his 1989 competition entry for the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF). President Mitterrand called for “an entirely new (building) type,” and, according to Claire Downey (February 1990), the Paris correspondent for Architectural Record, “the competition for the Library of France provided the opportunity to explore both an architecture of addition—to Paris, to the history of library design—and a point of departure that envelops new technologies and techniques” (p. 123). In other words, the competition involved the re-thinking the ideologies of place and of library that are embodied in this important civic building. As Koolhaas says in his 1995 monograph S,M,L,XL, “we became more and more resistant to the norms of architecture in which everything has to be resolved through the invention of form. We sought for the first time to really invent, architecturally” (p. 24-5).
The three-million-square-foot space was to include five different libraries: a cinemathèque, a library of recent acquisitions, a reference library, a catalog library, and a scientific library—“each with its own idiosyncrasies and its own public” (Koolhaas, 1996, p. 23). Because 60% of the program consists of public spaces and storage, Koolhaas proposed that all the storage “could be seen as one enormous cube, and then all the public spaces could simply be excavated” from that cube (Koolhaas, 1996, p. 25). His design begins with a “solid block of information, a repository of all forms of memory, books, optic discs, microfiches, computers, etc.” (Zaera Polo, 1992b, p. 68). The major public spaces are integrated as “absences of building, voids carved out from the information solid”—with the most highly public spaces located at the lower parts of the building, and those areas requiring darkness located at the core (Fisher, April 1990, p. 125; Koolhaas, 1996, p. 26). Koolhaas refers to these carved out spaces as “multiple embryos floating in a field of memory” (Ouroussoff, April 17, 2000, p. F1).
Why should the materials storage areas be envisioned as, variously, a “solid block of information” and “a field of memory”? Are not these two images of the “solid block” and the memory “field” somewhat opposed? What does this imagery—and the seeming contradiction in the images—say about the materials housed in the library? What ideologies about library does it embody? And why should the public areas be regarded as, alternatively, “voids,” and “embryos”? Can these public areas represent both absence, through the void, and life, through the embryo? What ideologies of public do these “absences” and “embryos” imply?
Furthermore, in Koolhaas’s design each of the voids has a distinctive shape. The Sound and Moving Image Library resembles, according to one critic, pebbles. The Recent Acquisitions Library is a cross-shaped space containing audio and television viewing spaces that slope toward the river and intersect at an amphitheater. The Catalog Room takes the shape of egg, and it provides a panoramic view of Paris. The Research Library is housed in a loop or moebius strip. And the Reference Library is a continuous, thrice-twisted spiral that connects five floors of semi-open storage and study carrels (Fisher, April 1990, p. 125; Zaera Polo, 1992b, p.70).
Zaera Polo (1992b) explains the significance of these shaped absences: “Since they are defined as voids, the individual libraries can be spaces defined strictly to their own logic, independent of each other, of the external envelope and of the classical obstacles of architecture…” (p. 68). But what is the logic behind the choice of shape for each space? Why should the Recent Acquisitions library resemble a cross? And why should its multimedia areas converge at an amphitheater? Does the theater’s positioning at this confluence point suggest that this classical auditorium—and the oral culture that it represents—still play a key role in our contemporary media culture? Furthermore, does the egg shape of the Catalog Room imply that knowledge and enlightenment are nurtured and hatched in this area? Or are these shaped purely functionally derived?
Although each public area differs in form and function, these public spaces are all linked by escalators to provide continuity throughout the entire structure. “Ordering the apparently arbitrary spatial forms is a series of parallel shear walls and a grid of nine elevators” (Fisher, April 1990, p. 125). Downey (February 1990), in her review of the BNF competition entries, imagines that Koolhaas’s nine elevators enable one to move through the building “as if though ideas and information, almost like tracing the plan of a computer chip, yet far more serene” (p. 125). What does it mean to inhabit information—to view knowledge as a physical landscape through which one can glide in a glass car? Koolhaas (1996) proposed: “the elevator shafts…could be electric signs whose words, texts, or songs represent the destinations of the individual elevators. All these letters, moving up, would make the building seem to hover, entirely supported by the alphabet” (p. 28-9). It is significant that the alphabet provides the structural integrity for this highly digitalized library.
Standing amidst this core of elevators is the Great Hall of Ascension, where floors of glass “display the building’s treasures” (Zaera Polo, 1992b, p. 70). What ideologies are embodied in this transparent building material, in the techniques of “display”? From the great hall one can also view vertical electronic billboards on each of the elevator shafts. Even the building’s glass facades, of varying degrees of transparency, become projection surfaces. Koolhaas (1996) explains, “We thought we could use glass in such a way that it sometimes made disclosures. Sometimes, like a cloud, it would obscure what was happening behind, and at other times it would simply block what happened by being opaque” (p. 30). Other building elements play optical illusions, appearing at times as windows, at other times as tunnels, and at still other times as what Zaera Polo (1992b) calls “polished stones” (p. 74). According to Downey (1990), this architectonic and optical play symbolizes that “word and image are joined. The library…can become as much of an information transmitter as any video screen, turning the building itself into a readable surface and collector of images” (p. 125). Thus, the library itself becomes a resource, a text, a medium.
Center for Art and Media Technology (ZKM), Karlsruhe, Germany
Again, in his 1989 competition entry for the Center for Art and Media Technology (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, Koolhaas explores similar themes: circulation, mediation, virtuality, and physicality. Yet there is one major distinction: the ZKM is not a library. It is a media center. A feature on the design competition in the March 1990 edition of Diadalos, identifies the unique challenges of designing this brand new institution:
The historical library, the memory of national knowledge, already appears to be a thing of the past, given the present technological possibilities, in both its form and function of storing books and—in particular—as a site of academic work. The “media center,” which everyone is now talking and thinking about, is a phenomenon which has yet to be defined precisely with respect to its real performance, function and appearance. The architect, when designing, participates in a “hare and tortoise race” in which the hare of communications technology will always be a nose ahead of the architect-tortoise (and his well designed information container) (p. 123).
In other words, the ideologies that come to be codified in the media center do not entirely precede the process of architectural design, but emerge and are negotiated in the design process itself. They are constructed along with the building.
According to Jeffrey Shaw (n.d.), Director of the Institute for Visual Media at the ZKM, the Center was originally proposed in 1984 as the centerpiece of an urban enhancement project and did not reach its “final definition” until 1989. Koolhaas was selected to design the facility—but on July 16, 1992, the city council voted to abandon the project (Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Koolhaas, Mau, 1995). In S,M,L,XL (1995), Koolhaas writes that the “fiasco showed that even where such a culture needs recombinations, the inevitable slowness of architecture—its inability to embody experiments quickly—tends to obliterate the fragile opportunities that occur in the unstable constellations of political and economic forces that indeed seal our fate” (p. 763). The ZKM was later realized, by another architect, in “a massive monumental industrial edifice built in 1918 as an armaments factory” (www.zkm.de, ¶3-4). This seems an oddly appropriate site to house an institution dedicated to forging “new meeting grounds between art, science and society,” to nurturing “artistic achievement in the various fields of the media arts” and bringing “new qualities into the evolution of our technological culture” (www.zkm.de, ¶2).
But at the time of the competition Koolhaas’s design was deemed the most appropriate structure to house a media center, and was selected from among all the competition entries. When the competition was announced in 1983, city officials sought proposals for the redevelopment of Karlsruhe’s station area and the dilapidated area south of the station (Werner, 1991, p. 78). Thus, the ZKM design had to respond to a “series of relationships between the existing city and the implications of the site and program” (Zaera Polo, 1992b, p. 118). Zaera Polo (1992b) explains:
The classical city of Karlsruhe in itself contradicts the presence of a futuristic center of Art and Technology; while the railway station building is oriented toward the city center, the ZKM is oriented toward the periphery; part of the program accommodates research for the artists, while the other part is devoted to the public; the museum for modern art offers a spectrum of exhibition possibilities ranging from traditional to experimental (p. 118).
Furthermore, at that time, “nobody knew exactly what a ‘Medienzentrum’ really was, or ought to be” (Werner, 1991, p. 78). “How then was it possible for an architect to define a…program, not to mention an architectural form, for something that could no longer be imprisoned in concrete materials, and for which he could find neither examples to serve as a comparison nor typological precedents?” (Werner, 1991, p. 79).
What architectural form did Koolhaas choose? The cube. Werner (1991) explains that this primary shape allows for the introduction of “an unexpected fluctuation of spaces exclusively in its nucleus” (p. 81). In expecting the unexpected, in preparing for fluctuation in the institution’s mission and program, Koolhaas proposed a structure that emphasizes flexibility. Despite such adaptability, however, Koolhaas (1996) claims that a “museum for media” is, in a sense, destined to be always already outmoded:
There is an incredible pressure for the media to always change, in terms of both its content and its form. What is different about doing a museum for media is that curse of continuously accelerating events, combined with the problems of creating real space as well as space that is virtual, ephemeral, or destructible (pp. 34-5).
Eventually, though, the Center’s directors finalized a mission statement and established an identity for the ZKM. According to Shaw (n.d.), the ZKM was to be
not a single entity, but a multiplex consisting of a number of synergetically interrelated departments. The Museum of Modern Art…is a permanent collection of major international artworks with the emphasis on contemporary media art relations and with the intention to show the historical continuity of media art in relation to traditional forms. The Media Museum…is a popular science museum with specially made exhibits that offer the general public ways to better understand the nature and future directions of our technological culture…. The Media Library is a large interactive library of audio visual and printed materials…. [The] Theater is a general purpose space for experimenting [with] the conjunction between media technology and the performing arts (www.zkm.de).
Just as the Center has multiple departments, Koolhaas’s cube, like all cubes, has multiple dimensions and axes. And most critics see in Koolhaas’s design an attempt to position and organize along each of these axes the seemingly contradictory dimensions that the facility would have to incorporate: center and periphery; the classical and the futuristic; tradition and experimentation; and demonstration (public areas) and production (private studio areas) (Werner, 1991, p. 87). Koolhaas’s design attempts to embody, in a single structure, these contrasting ideologies—and, in the process, to construct the ideology of the “media center” itself.
In linking these seemingly incongruous programmatic elements within a regular, clean cubic form, Koolhaas’s design also links ideologically several seemingly opposed ideas. By architecturally connecting a traditional museum recording the history of contemporary art; an interactive media “museum,” or laboratory, with computers and audio-visual recording studios; an experimental theater; and a library containing archives and databases, Koolhaas brings the traditional arts into contact with new media arts—and thereby decreases the ideological distance between them. His design “is charged with restoring a correct relation between the manually-based traditional arts and the abstract knowledge underlying digital technology” (Pogacnik, June 1990, p. 79). Marco Pogacnik (June 1990) claims that by integrating old and new, the ZKM brings “research…down from its traditional ‘ivory tower’ and into the real world” (p. 78). “The ZKM’s mission,” he continues, “is to see the design process as the transformation of reality into a ‘gesamtkunstwerk,’ a total work of art” (p. 79). Here, classical distinctions, divisions, and dichotomies are dissolved.
Furthermore, this total artwork becomes an immersive space. Shaw (n.d.) explains, “Here the viewer is no longer a consumer in a mausoleum of images and objects, rather he and she are travelers, discoverers and creators in a dense new space of audio-visual information.” Again, as in the BNF, Koolhaas’s design plays with the idea of inhabiting information: in the ZKM, “the artist and the spectator are no longer confronted by an object or work, but are inside it, in a hyper-real space created by a mix of holograms, music, words, computer graphics, and laser technology” (Pogacnik, June 1990, p. 79). Koolhaas (1996) conceived of the theater as a “space where every single plane can be seen as a surface for projection; in that sense the entire space can be completely manipulated” (pp. 32-3).
This “information space” theme continues through to the building’s exterior, where a structural shell functions as a gigantic telescreen, “a monumental ‘magic lantern’ that projects onto its exterior an ever-changing array of snapshots, scenes, and videoclips of the various activities that are going on inside the building” (Werner, 1991, p. 81). According to Koolhaas (1996), “the word, represented on the exterior of the building, presents to the outside a certain kind of message, in the most vulgar communicative sense” (p. 34). Koolhaas revisits the architectonic illusion, which appeared in his design for the Jussieu libraries, too. Pedestrians passing the ZKM would see it as a “black block which does not reveal its true content”—“a screen on which spectacle is projected” (Wortmann, 1993, pp. 22-3). As they approach the building, however, it “dissolves into an abstract and airy pattern of cylindrical shafts” (Werner, 1991, p. 83). What ideologies are communicated through this shift from slick screen to mechanical structure? Could Koolhaas have planned this perceptive shift to represent the ZKM’s commitment to both traditional mechanical media and new digital media? Could it symbolize the deceptive ability of visual technologies to hide their mechanical natures and internal structures? Regardless of Koolhaas’s intention, Werner claims, “what matters most about this enormous visual barrel organ is its metaphorical significance: the medium is the message” (p. 83).
And in Seattle, through what medium will OMA convey the Seattle Public Library’s message? What ideological messages—about the place, the public, and the library—will the architectural medium embody? How will those messages be negotiated and codified—or, as McLuhan might say, “massaged”—into a physical structure?
At the end of every semester for the past few years I’ve tried to write a recap post for each of my classes. I share highlights from the students’ projects and reflect on what we accomplished, and what we might do differently next time. However, back in Spring 2011, when I first taught my Archives, Libraries & Databases class, I neglected to write a summary post — probably because I was freaking out about the tenure dossier that was due in two months.
So, for the benefit of students in my current section of ALD, who might like to see what their predecessors have done — and for my own enjoyment, since I get to revisit some fantastic work and remember some fabulous students from the past — I’ll briefly summarize the Spring 2011 projects here:
- Grace examined soil painting, dance, and song as archival practices among the Talaandig tribe in Bukidnon Province, the Philippines — which is where Grace is from.
- Lily examined the influence of Belle Da Costa Greene, Pierpont Morgan’s personal librarian, in shaping not only the Morgan Library, but also the field of librarianship.
- Sue studied various cases in which photography has been used to archive urban redevelopment.
- Chris offered a fabulous psychoanalytic reading — using the work of Derrida and Carolyn Steedman — of the Mormon Archive.
- Allison, who worked for the New York City Ballet, discussed historical and recent attempts to archive live dance performance, and her discussion included various approaches to dance notation.
- Christo explored the spatiality of databases: the space occupied by databases’ technical infrastructure; the departmental spaces linked together by an institution’s (e.g., police or immigration) databases; and the geographic spaces from which data is drawn, and which are housed together on a database.
- Chris, who worked for UNICEF, critically assessed his own team’s efforts to introduce digital kiosks and SMS-based systems to increase access to information and “mirror the work of public libraries” in Africa.
- Danielle examined the evolving material form of the book, and how that morphing object necessitates changes within the institutions charged with selling, storing, and cataloging it.
- Maria, a native of Bogotá, examined her city’s network of public libraries — comprised of dozens of architecturally significant buildings constructed within the past 15 years — and the vital role they play in civic life.
- Stephen, who maintains his own extensive database of videogame artwork, considered the notion of “fidelity” in regard to the archived, born-digital image.
- Kelly conducted fieldwork in public libraries in and around Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to see how teenagers were being served, if at all.
- Ran examined the archival practices (including how various media formats are processed) and politics of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.
- Darrell studied the creation of the Fugazi Live Series by consulting with the band and participating archivists.
- Nick questioned the notion of the “document” in the work of Walid Raad and The Atlas Group.
- Steve dug into the Stasi archive, focusing in particular on the epistemic shift – the intellectual “renovation” of the archives – that accompanies a regime change, as well as the political, cultural and affective consequences of that shift.
- And Rory speculated on ways that libraries might make more material and transparent their systems for classifying and storing knowledge, particularly those forms of digital knowledge that seem to have no material body.
My article on “little libraries” (aka DIY/guerilla/ad-hoc/micro libraries) is now available on Places. “Marginalia: Little Libraries in the Urban Margins” examines DIY libraries as sites of tactical urbanism, DIY place-making, information-sharing, guerilla librarianship, and, in some cases, art practice. I talk about (or link to) the OWS People’s Library; Proteus Gowanus’s library-themed work; Cabinet magazine’s filing cabinet library; the AAAARG library; the Bidoun reading rooms, the Ooga Booga Library at the Swiss Institute; Dexter Sinister’s Serving Library; the Reanimation Library; the Corner Libraries; the Little Library Project; the Hundred Story House in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn; British Columbia’s Neighborhood Bookshelf; the Brooklyn Art Library; San Francisco-based Ourshelves; the Biblioburro in Colombia; the Weapon of Mass Instruction in Argentina; the Village Learning Place in Baltimore; San Jose’s Seven Trees volunteer-run library; open-air libraries in Magdeburg (Germany) and Gulbarga (India); phone booth libraries in Somerset (UK), Clinton (NY), and sprinkled throughout New York City; the Brooklyn BRANCH library; Chicago’s Read/Write Library; the Brooklyn Underground Library; BookCrossing and the International Public Space Library; the Chinatown (Boston) Storefront Library; and the Uni Project. I’m sure there are others I’m missing.
This was an incredibly fun article to write. It enabled me to tour dozens of inspiring spaces, speak with lots of passionate librarians and designers and civic officials, and work with Nancy Levinson, a fantastically talented editor who showed me how writing can (and should perhaps more often be) a pleasant and productive collaborative process. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the effort!
I received a few emails in response to yesterday’s post on the NYPL Central Library Plan (CLP) debate. When some guy on Twitter called me a “PC nitwit” (that’s a first!), it struck me that he — and perhaps others — assumed that because I was critiquing the nature of some of the debate, I was against the NYPL’s critics. That’s not at all the case. I simply didn’t lay out my own critiques because others, like Charles Peterson of n+1 and Scott Sherman at The Nation and Caleb Crain, have put forward very cogent arguments that encompass all the issues I’d raise.
I don’t intend to present myself as an expert on the whole NYPL affair. Yesterday’s (modestly intentioned) post was supposed to be more of a meta-commentary: a reflection on the nature of the debate itself — including a few lines of discussion that seem likely to alienate or aggravate other patron groups and make it easy for CLP proponents and library officials to dismiss the critique.
Nevertheless, in an attempt to wash away the stain of that “PC nitwit” slur, I’ve made some minor revisions to yesterday’s post (marked in red) and changed a word in my headline, in the hope of better conveying what I hoped to convey.
[Update: 6/18: I've received a few emails in response to this post, including messages from some of the folks to whom I link below. When some guy on Twitter called me a "PC nitwit" (that's a first!), it struck me that he -- and perhaps others -- assumed that because I was critiquing the nature of some of the criticism, I was against the NYPL's critics. That's not at all the case. I simply didn't lay out my own critiques because others, like Charles Peterson of n+1 and Scott Sherman at The Nation, have put forward very cogent arguments that encompass all the issues I'd raise. Besides, I intended for my (modestly intentioned) post to be more of a meta-critique: a reflection on the nature of the debate itself -- including a few arguments that seem unlikely to advance the CLP critics' cause. I've made some minor revisions to the text below (marked in red) and changed a word in my headline, in the hope of better conveying what I hoped to convey.]
I caught up on a few podcasts while walking around today. The Harvard Berkman Center’s “Libraries of the Future” episode consisted of a conversation between the fabulous Matthew Battles, author of Library: An Unquiet History, which I think is still one of the most smart and beautiful recountings of library history; and Berkman’s David Weinberger, author of Too Big To Know, among other well-known books. Weinberger argues that, for much of their history, libraries have been designed to overcome the limitations of place: limitations that include the scarcity of storage space and (echoing the arguments he makes in Everything is Miscellaneous) the fact that a copy of a book has to occupy a fixed place on a shelf rather than being located in multiple places simultaneously. Yet, he says, things have changed:
Now we have a new world which is…spaceless… [The] limitations [of space] are gone, and we are left with increasingly emptied, and quite magnificent…, public places where the things it was designed to overcome — the limitations of space — just aren’t limitations anymore.
The current debate over the proposed renovations of the New York Public Library’s 42nd Street building — debates focusing on the need to negotiate between various competing programmatic uses of space, and the maintenance of a particular spatial character, one befitting a world-class research library — belies Weinberger’s claim. Space is still a limitation. But it’s a limitation we don’t always want to “overcome”; instead, it’s a resource, a public good, that we value — something we want to preserve, to have more of.
I’m not about to describe all the details of the renovation process — which involves the sale of the mid-Manhattan branch across the street and the Science, Industry, and Business Library a few blocks away on Madison (this was one of the libraries I wrote about in my book); the destruction of some of the stacks; and the incorporation of a circulating library and more computers — or exhaustively recount the many critiques of the proposal and of the NYPL itself. You can read all about it in the Times, The Nation, WNYC, the Village Voice, n+1, Inside Higher Ed, writer Caleb Crain’s blog, and a host of other locations.
As the Nation and n+1 articles in particular relay, there are reasons to wonder about the library’s motives. Over the past few years, critics have posed questions about the institution’s budget, the influx of McKinsey-types, the deterioration of various celebrated collections, and staff cuts. The Central Library Plan, as the whole enterprise is called, has been less than transparent, and the library’s attempts at public engagement rather half-hearted. Once the controversy broke, the library shifted its PR machine into overdrive. President Anthony Marx was out touting the plan in various venues — print, blog, broadcast, live appearance — and the library launched a forum for “conversation” on its website. Sadly, this discussion isn’t very public, since the means of communication are one-way, and others’ contributions aren’t made visible.
Managing a public design process — particularly for an institution like a public library, in which everyone (rightfully) regards him or herself as having a stake — is notoriously difficult. When I researched 15 such library design processes for my book, I found numerous cases of well-meaning institutions making honest mistakes in engaging the public; consequently spreading ill-will; and in some cases fatally damaging their design projects (there are also, of course, a few infamous cases of institutions misleading or willfully deceiving their publics). I’ve seen architects simply use the wrong material in their architectural models — say, an opaque material that doesn’t clearly communicate the difference between solid walls and glazing — and end up so confounding the public that an entire design process is put on hold for years. I’ve seen librarians appeal to the suburban branch library patrons and thereby alienate the downtown folks, and vice versa. I’ve seen a poor choice of words in a public meeting spell disaster.
The library’s certainly botched this process — in so many ways. They’ve failed to produce a drawing or model that can make the whole process tangible to a public (of course the use of drawings and models creates its own problems; they could be merely speculative, yet people latch on to them and solidify their opinions prematurely). They’ve made the spurious claim that the renovation will render the 42nd Street library more “democratic.” Oh, boy. A claim of that sort, which implies that the library was less (than) democratic before — actually, any claim centered on a term as charged as “democratic” — is bound to stir up a storm. [Note that I am not claiming that the recent controversy is simply the result of a mismanaged public process; the renovation plan at the heart of that process is problematic, too, as many other critics have explained.]
Yet one of the most surprising things for me in this whole affair is the spurious, reactionary — and often cringe-worthily elitist — claims made by some of the critics regarding what and who the CLP — and perhaps by implication, the NYPL as a whole — is and isn’t for. I don’t disagree with their arguments or requests (a selection of which have been spelled out rather even-handedly in a petition), but I’m slightly embarrassed by the way they’re making them:
- Illustrious historian Anthony Grafton wrote in the Daily Princetonian: “My stomach hurts when I think about NYPL, the first great library I ever worked in, turned into a vast internet cafe where people can read the same Google Books, body parts and all, that they could access at home or Starbucks.” As if the library is suitable only for auratic experiences, and that an “internet cafe” (are we still using this term?) will somehow “contaminate” the entire building?
- Biographer and essayist Edmund Morris wrote to the Times in late April:”Mr. Marx explains that the renovation will create up to 20,000 square feet more public space than is now available in the three Midtown buildings combined. I wonder, though, if by public he doesn’t really mean popular….[S]cholars are people, too, and we are beginning to feel, well, if not threatened, increasingly crowded out” — forced to “brace for the curious scrutiny of tour groups.” He seems to be threatened by the impending influx (he later uses the term “visitation,” implying that these folks couldn’t possibly be at the library to study) of commoners. With the plebians come odd smells: “Ominously, the aroma of the coffee bean already infuses the lovely vestibule.” Later on, he writes: “It’s not reassuring to hear that up to half of the main building’s holdings of noncirculating volumes are destined to be transferred to — excuse me? — New Jersey.” Oh, poor Jersey: never to escape its reputation as the land of storage facilities and spray-tanned, coffee-drinking plebes.
In the Berkman Radio podcast I mentioned earlier, Matthew Battles acknowledges that “[t]here’s been a lot of controversy that’s come from quarters that wouldn’t surprise you at all: people from the academic world and scholars and journalists in particular.” Then he offers a bold observation:
I always find the interaction of journalists and prose writers who are not academics…, in these recurrent controversies about the repurposing of libraries, to be a very interesting one. Because they always seem to be the people who are most tightly bound to what might be called traditional, and I think reductive, models of what libraries have been, should be, and can be… [It's] another cycle of this refrain…of fear about the transformation of libraries.
Chloë Schama, writing in The New Republic, echoes many of my own frustrations with the debate:
My main complaint with [some critics'] concerns is the presumptuous distinction that they draw: the scholars and the others. Libraries — the NYPL in particular — are where people go to become scholars. Isn’t a studious thirteen-year-old a scholar? A journalist, who visits the library to immerse herself in some arcane matter? How about a lawyer, chef, or dancer investigating a kink in history that forever altered her profession?… Among the riffraff might be the next great novelist or cultural critic, someone without a stamp of approval from an institution, but who knows enough to know that he doesn’t know enough — which just might be the most valid intellectual credential of all.
Yes, the concerns raised by the “Committee to Save the New York Public Library” (which, from the perspective of the CLP’s proponents, must seem a rather alarmist title) are valid and should be addressed. But all the academics and scholars and writers who’ve signed the petition need to make sure to monitor the rhetoric of the debate, which will continue next Tuesday at The New School (I am tremendously disappointed I’ll be out of town for this) — and to keep ourselves from either looking like — or, worse, becoming – self-absorbed, reactionary elitists. We need to remember that yes, the 42nd Street Library is a research library, but it’s a public research library. We need to make sure to acknowledge that the public library has always been a multifarious institution with a diverse program — including even recreational and commercial elements — appealing to multiple publics. We need to recognize that among those multiple publics are groups of people much more needy than we are, and whom the library, with its limited resources, must support, too. [This is not to condone the poor decisions of the NYPL's leadership or to deny the tremendous privilege they enjoy -- but, rather, to recognize that among the diverse populations any public library system must serve, we scholars and writers are, for the most part, among the "haves," and should not set our own interests apart from those of the "have nots."] We may have to make some compromises — for the sake of ensuring the long-term longevity of the public library as an institution, and for the greater good of the public at large. And yes, that public at large might include some ruffians.