What are we hearing at the Chief Librarian's Community Conversations?
Background: Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner has invited Library patrons to join him at informal meetings at locations across the city to talk about the Library's five service priorities. This third Community Conversation was focused on the Re-Imagined Spaces Service Priority and was held at the Central Library from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 21, 2016. The meeting was co-sponsored by AIA Seattle, Design in Public and Space.City. About 80 people attended. Along with Turner, panelist speakers included:
- Dri Ralph, facilities design coordinator for the King County Library System
- Walter Schacht, fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a principal architect with Schacht Aslani Architects, which designed the expansion of the Douglass-Truth Branch in 2005-2006 during the Libraries for All building program
- Tom Fay, director of Library programs and services for The Seattle Public Library
Recap: Turner welcomed attendees and thanked the Library Board, Library Foundation and Friends of the Library for their sponsorship of these conversations.
Turner noted the Library is the only institution to open its doors to everyone, regardless of age or background, and said that changes in demographics and technology have influenced the way patrons use Library services, with digital usage and class attendance on the rise. Usage changes and Seattle's growing and diverse population have made it important to adapt and energize Library spaces for new uses to keep up with the changing ways that patrons use the spaces.
Turner listed the 2013 Northeast Branch changes that – because of a large circulation of materials for youth and patron comments – added a children's area, family-friendly seating and more computers for children. He also referred to the Rainier Beach Branch's 2015 improvements as an example of creating flexible spaces for Library users of all ages. The Library is able to leverage the voter-approved 2012 Library levy to help fund improvements.
Turner noted that flexible spaces at the Central Library enabled the recent exhibition of “First Folio, the Book That Gave Us Shakespeare,” and that the building's flexible space extends to the exterior plaza. He listed a number of ways that the Library uses flexible space in non-Library locations, including Wi-Fi hotspots, Books on Bikes and more.
Next, Dri Ralph spoke about how the architecture of the past doesn't always reflect current community needs, saying that library spaces need to be flexible in order to be great. She cited three examples of flexible library spaces: a mall location that introduces immigrants to the concept of libraries; a library with a lush wall of greenery that inspires people; and a children's area with seating and nooks scaled to its intended user size.
Walter Schacht said that architects love libraries because of how they represent a neighborhood and city, and noted that civic engagement between librarians and community members is what makes libraries continually important. Schacht gave an overview of the history of the Douglass-Truth Branch, mentioning the shifting communities in the neighborhood that led to changing the name from the original Henry L. Yesler Memorial Library. He said the challenge was how to respect the history of the building while re-imagining Douglass-Truth to represent the neighborhood's changing demographics. In other library buildings, the architectural challenges were shifting the libraries from being book warehouses to more of people-spaces with flexible walls and seating. In closing, Schact commented that libraries are going back to what they used to be: public places to occupy and engage in community.
Tom Fay said the Library needs to be both a book space and a civic center. After admiring the engagement zones in the largest Scandinavian library in Aarhus, Denmark (built in 2015 and slightly smaller than the Central Library), Fay asked himself "What do people want to do at a library? What do they take away? Is it just the materials they're picking up?" Fay listed ways a library can re-imagine its spaces: from information that can be found anywhere, to what can only be experienced at the library. He said he thinks not about space for media, but space as media. He also talked about the importance of intergenerational spaces, and spaces that enable people to take the step from learning to doing. He also noted the need to organize events in such a way that people have a voice and a place to talk.
Fay noted that one obstacle to re-imagining space in the Central Library is that the building has many planned, fixed spaces. His closing point was the Library would like to use the concept of Re-imagined Spaces to make early literacy and STEAM activities (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) engaging and approachable throughout the Library system – using books and materials to go from knowledge to experimentation.
Turner spent the rest of the meeting asking the audience questions, listening to suggestions, and answering inquiries. Outlined below is the Q&A in brief, followed by patron suggestions.