Thursday, February 05, 2015
Where Libraries Are Sited Is As Important As What They Do?
Public Libraries where often built as large standalone buildings in the central Victorian and Edwardian civic centres, many of which remain today. They then spawned local branches with the expansion of the suburbs and even had mobile units to cater for the rural areas. Currently the role and overall library offer is being brought into constant commercial and digital question. Where should they be sited? What should they provide? What is their role in the community? What is difference between local, civic and national Libraries?
As UK retail profiles continue to change The Local Data Company, which monitors 3,000 town and shopping centres and retail parks, said 20% of shops in the North of England were now empty, compared 10% in the South and that 20% of the shops it tracked had been empty for more than three years, amounting to almost 10,000 outlets. So we have retail space and changing retail consumer habits.
However, it is no longer merely going out of town. UK Supermarkets are having to rethink their store strategy and property portfolio in light of the threat from the bargain market and from the quality end. Big is no longer best and out of town doesn't fit with changing consumer behaviour away from the bulk buy to more frequent convenience shopping. The likes of Tesco has named some 43 stores it is closing across the country. In November, Sainsbury's said it was scrapping plans for new stores, while Morrison’s plans to close 10 loss-making stores this year and there is now a growing number of empty undeveloped space sitting vacant. However Asda, Lidl and Aldi continue to expand but how long Asda will do so is debatable.
So what has the changing retail habits and property mix got to do with public libraries? This week we made aware of a large WalMart store which was abandoned by the retailer in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley. The city took the bold step to spent $24 million and transform the abandoned store into a 123,000-square-foot public library and community hub. The building now includes a computer lab, a cafe, meeting rooms with videoconferencing capabilities and a 180-seat auditorium. It effectively released their old, cramped 40,000-square-foot main library, and placed it back in the center of the community. The American LibraryAssociation and the InternationalInterior Design Association, were so impressed that they named it the overall winner of their 2012 LibraryInterior Design Awards
Across the US there are some 130 former Walmarts available and the question on how to reuse these and other ‘boxes’ is now being seriously looked at by all and the success of this and other library community hubs is evident with visitors and activity. Not every ‘big box’ is becoming a library and there are many examples of transformations across the US.
There are many examples where libraries have been located within shopping malls and this concept is not new but the idea of shops within a library may be more novel. Another potential opportunity is to tie libraries and social services into new housing developments in a similar way to how social housing is tied into new developments. This could mean that once a development area reaches a certain size or density then those developments within that area are obliged to contribute a little bit more to the community. Greenwich has done something similar in the new East Greenwich development where it has relocated a public swimming pool, a public library and small housing and social offices within a new private housing development.
Whether it locating libraries within malls, creating malls around libraries, location libraries with new housing developments or some other variant, the case is that libraries belong in communities and should not be standalone propositions. Libraries need to do more than simply offer access to books and other information and material. They need to be designed and sited for the 21st century not the 19th century.
Library in a Shopping Mall: LearnAbout The Mall Library Connection in Vancouver, Washington (May 2013)
Sweden: A Digital Public LibraryLocated Inside a Stockholm Shopping Mall Will Open Next Year (Sept 2013)
Partnerships: Second Branch ofBiblioTech “All Digital” Public Library Will Open in a San Antonio PublicHousing Project (Dec 2014)