Library needs to foster connection and collaboration
The absence of a central library in Wellington has left a significant gap in the civic and cultural infrastructure of our city, writes Professor Anne Goulding.
Shut with little warning in March 2019 after an engineering report that the building may not be safe in a major earthquake, the library remains closed and Wellington City Council is currently undertaking a consultation exercise on its future.
While the boarded-up building is a sad prospect in our city centre, the city and its communities are now presented with an exciting opportunity.
Decades, if not centuries, of library development and practice have demonstrated that libraries are highly adaptable institutions, swift to evolve and accommodate their communities’ changing needs and priorities.
Those needs are diverse, but a new library can meet them by designing appropriate spaces and facilities for people to learn, be inspired, create, experience and share new ideas, access technology and enjoy quiet contemplation.
Above all, libraries are places for ideas, and there should be an emphasis in any new or refurbished central library on incorporating spaces within which people can engage with knowledge, information and ideas in a range of formats.
Increasingly, we live and work in blended spaces where we move between the physical and digital, and good library design facilitates connections between the physical and digital, with each complementing the other.
Despite predictions about the death of the printed word, driven out by increasingly ubiquitous technology, research has demonstrated the durability of printed books and information and that the distinction between print and digital is a false binary.
Libraries and librarians have, in fact, long understood this and no longer consider different types of media as different propositions, but rather as a range of ways to offer the same thing – access to stories and ideas and knowledge, as well as opportunities for communities to share those stories, ideas and knowledge among themselves and with others.
Findings ways to facilitate this will be very important for any new or refurbished central library.
We hear much about filter bubbles and echo chambers these days and there is a need for a place where multi-dimensional conversations about ideas can be held, where we can encounter ideas and experiences different from our own.
A new central library can support this by becoming a physical and virtual space for collaboration, learning, creating and networking, within which Wellingtonians will connect with each other and a world of knowledge.
Good library design fosters opportunities for chance encounters, with other people or new knowledge, enabling us to hear others’ points of view or consider new ways of seeing the world.
The experiences of other cities around the world have demonstrated the importance of the symbolism and iconic nature of new central library projects. They are presented as landmark buildings, a source of civic pride and a symbol of the vitality of the city.
We don’t need to look overseas to see the power of a new central library, in fact. Tūranga in Christchurch opened in October 2018, replacing the central library closed after the 2011 earthquake.
Not only has it become a tourist attraction and meeting place that draws people into the city, important for revitalising the central area, but it has also become a symbol of the recovery of Christchurch. I once heard somebody say seeing the library open gave the community hope their city was coming back.
And this relates to perhaps one of the most important messages the development of a new exciting central library for Wellington will convey; that the city values local people and their communities’ wellbeing and is invested in their quality of life and future.
Anne Goulding is Professor of Library and Information Management in the Wellington School of Business and Government at Victoria University of Wellington. This article is an adaptation of her presentation for a Wellington City Council central library consultation event.
This article was orginally published on Stuff.