Are we ready for public libraries that do not hold as many physical books? Foster + Partners’ controversial proposal to renovate the Stephen A Schwarzman Building in New York was rejected by influential figures on the basis that books would be moved from the library’s stacks to a new location in New Jersey – which would cause delays in retrieval. Mecanoo will now lead the renovation of Stephen A. Schwarzman Building which will involve increasing the amount of public space by almost 42%. The revised scheme would allow books to stay in an on-site storage area.
Smaller libraries do not have a choice. Many libraries that I have visited over the last two weeks are reducing the number of books they hold on-site. ‘We have had our funding cut’, one service manager explained. ‘We cannot hold books for the few adults who come here to browse’, he continued. The library needs to create space for other services. ‘We can give our customers a better offer by setting up an agreement with another library so they can borrow a wider range of books. These books will be delivered to our library on a daily basis’.
Many of the customers I spoke to will miss the books that are on the shelves. Some only visit the library to read books. ‘When I have half a day off work … I like coming to browse the books’, one gentleman explained. I asked him if he would be happy to access these books online? ‘No, I like being surprised’, he said. ‘I see that there are fewer books here now’.
Are libraries becoming bookless spaces? There have been cuts in public funding in many countries I have visited - increasing pressure on libraries to use their space effectively. Some libraries might have to remove books from their shelves to make space for other services that are more lucrative. Larger libraries will continue to hold the books – with smaller libraries providing a range of community services instead. What learning for UK libraries?