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In our digital age, where more and more knowledge is “in the cloud” and local governments veer towards bankruptcy, what does the future hold for the neighborhood library?
In Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's first budget, nearly half of all the layoffs came from the staff of the Chicago Public Library. Hours of operation at the systems 76 branches had previously been cut from 64 to 48 hours a week. Rahm pruned it even further, down to 40, with Monday now a closed day.
By this summer, just two years later, many of those hours had been restored, and Emanuel was cutting the ribbon on the CPL's 80th branch library, inside the new Back of the Yards High School, heralding it as the future of the system even as, the following week, he was announcing a major new standalone library for Chinatown. Before we talk about the branches in part two of this series, we're going back downtown for a look at the central libraries that are at the center of the neighborhood networks.As a word, library is inextricably tied to the idea of knowledge through the physical objects of its conveyance: librarium, Latin for "chest for books", derived from liber, for paper or parchment. Bochord, old English for a horde of books. Librairie, old French for a collection of books. And, of course, adormirebiblioteca, old Italian for the place where students sleep.
So you'd think the death of the book would mean the end of libraries. Except you'd be wrong, for at least a couple of reasons . . .
A. The idea of what a library is is in accelerating re-definition.
B. Like Mark Twain, the book may be destined to expire, but, for the moment at least, reports of its death are highly exaggerated.
|Library of Birmingham, England (photo courtesy Mecanoo)|
|1897 Chicago Public Library, now the Chicago Cultural Center|
After Mayor Jane Byrne considered housing a new central library in Holabird and Roche's terra-cotta clad former Goldblatt's Store on State Street (now DePaul Center), her successor, Harold Washington, committed to building an entirely new building at State and Van Buren, and held a competition for its design.
|model, Murphy/Jahn entry to Chicago Central Library Competition|
Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago, opened last year.
|Mansueto Library (left) Walter Netsch's Regenstein Library, 1970 (right)|
Bannon's technology focus quickly made its stamp on the traditionalist Harold L. Washington. This past July, in a space previously hosting a viewing area for a video on the library's history, something called The Maker Lab debuted, offering free workshops, demonstrations and open-lab hours for a 3-D printing facility.
Next . . . Part Two: The evolution of the Chicago Public Library branch and its architecture, and two very different bets on its future.
Robots take over - from diapers.com to Helmut Jahn's Mansueto Library at the U of C
Settling for Less - The Road to Chicago's Harold L. Washington Library
Sleekness in Seattle - OMA's new Seattle Public Library