I am back on my tour of public libraries …. First stop, North Carolina State University to visit the innovative James B. Hunt Jnr. Library. This library has become known for its ‘bookBot’, an electronic book storage and retrieval system. The ‘bookBot’ is nine times more efficient than open stacks.
Indeed, open books shelves are a ‘rare phenomenon’ in this library, explained the Associate Director. ‘There are open stacks in three locations outside of the bookBot. The shelving was intended to be used as overflow for items requested from the bookBot, but it was never needed for that purpose’. The three main locations of open stacks are on the second floor and fourth floor. At the time of my visit, they were almost full (as my photos show), and they remain so today. There are also curved bookshelves not pictured in my photos in the second floor lounge area.
Snohetta were chosen to design the new library, which was completed just over three years ago. Out of the six finalists, Snohetta showed that were open to working with the university. They were not only receptive to comment on their designs, they readily absorbed one of the university’s design students in their team, and involved them in their final presentation. This was what distinguished Snohetta from the other architects, the Associate Director explains.
But, Snohetta were not responsible for choosing our furniture, he continued. The selection of furniture was by a small committee that included the in-house interior designer, the Director of Libraries, the Associate Director, and a few other senior Libraries staff. The university hired another interior designer who also assisted with the purchasing of furniture, scheduling deliveries, etc. The committee made sure there was plenty of variety. This means that the students have a remarkable amount of choice. Indeed, they don’t always sit in the chairs to work, some of them prefer to sit on floors, steps and even on-top of the walls. The space is flexible enough for the students to feel they can make it their own.
It was clear that many of the spaces are dedicated cutting edge technology, such as the makerspace, visualisation lab, and creativity studio on the fourth floor. The creativity studio is designed to be a fluid space with retractable white walls, and cameras, projectors, and lights that can be moved around depending on how they are required. It is used by the navy as a simulation space…. Indeed, libraries are responsible for incorporating digital technology into the learning experience – it is important to dedicate space to teaching via these new technologies. It not only affects how we use buildings, but also what we do in them.
After the tour, Patrick sent me a link to an article on the Johnson Building at the Boston Public Library and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington DC, which were built in 1972, and are now being modified to accommodate fundamental shifts in expectations for libraries. How will these historical buildings being altered to accommodate contemporary ways of learning?
Only three open book stacks remain in James B. Hunt Jnr. library; 1.6 million volumes are stored in the automated retrieval system known as the 'BookBot'.