The Forgiving Building: A Library Building Consultants' Symposium on the Design, Construction and Remodeling of Libraries to Support a High‐Tech Future

Date01 April 1987
Published date01 April 1987
AuthorGloria Novak,Anders C. Dahlgren,David Kapp,Jay K. Lucker,David Kaser,Margaret Beckman,Donald G. Kelsey
Subject MatterInformation & knowledge management,Library & information science
The Forgiving Building:
A Library Building Consultants' Symposium
on the Design, Construction and Remodeling
of Libraries to Support a High-Tech Future
Edited by Gloria Novak;
with contributions by Anders
David Kapp,
Jay K. Lucker, David Kaser, Margaret Beckman,
and Donald
The most serious barrier to achieving
a "forgiving building" is the cost
of its special building systems. The
library is increasingly becoming a
"hi tech" and "smart" building. A
sophisticated facility is required
to support current collections and
the emerging electronic and optical
technologies that will occupy
(and perhaps dominate) the future
library. It is far less expensive
to provide the capacity to support
future components at the time of
initial construction than to
subsequently renovate a building
to provide needed capacities at a
later date. The real challenge for
librarians is to convince those who
fund library construction that the
"forgiving building" is the least
expensive alternative in the long run.
What is a forgiving building? The contributors
to this symposium agree that it is a flexible building.
To carry the definition of a flexible building further,
it is one designed with building systems that can
be modified easily and relatively inexpensively
to meet new conditions. These include structural,
floor, wall, ceiling, lighting, electrical, mechani-
security, and furniture systems.
The contributors have also agreed that it
is impossible to accurately predict the future.
Some librarians predict that conventional printed
materials will continue to be acquired at an ever-
increasing rate, and that non-conventional formats
will add another layer of complexity to the housing
of traditional information formats. Other librarians
suggest that more compact storage of information
and access to information from remote locations
will make it possible at some time in the future
to reduce the size, or at least restrain growth,
of the library facility.
Regardless of who may be correct, the building
must still be forgiving to meet the challenge posed
by electronic technologies that increasingly govern
the manner in which information can be accessed
and building systems controlled. The library building
must be forgiving because it represents an enormous
economic investment that must continue to be
viable for many years into the future. Many
Novak is Library Space Planner, The Univer-
sity of California at Berkeley; and a private library
building consultant.
ISSUE 20 77
Margaret Beckman
168 John St. W.
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 1C5
(519) 742-7064
Anders C. Dahlgren
5814 Dorsett Drive
Madison, WI 53711
(608) 266-3874
David L. Kapp
University of Connecticut Library
Storrs, CT 06268
(203) 486-2219
David Kaser
School of Library and Information Science
Indiana University
Bloomington, IN 47405
(812) 335-5113
Donald G. Kelsey
University of Minnesota Libraries
309 19th Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
(612) 624-4520
Jay K. Lucker
14S-216 MIT Libraries
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 253-5651
Gloria Novak
6925 Balsam Way
Oakland, CA 94611
(415) 658-9458
library buildings have been in use for half a
century or more, and there are indications that
increasing numbers of them will be expected to
continue their useful lives as centenarians, creating
a formidable challenge for the forgiving building.
Our contributors have stressed the fact that
a building is a complex mechanism equipped with
complex systems that no one person, and no one
type of professional, can totally comprehend.
Under these conditions, it is imperative that the
librarians responsible for library facilities apprise
themselves of building technology developments
so that they can recognize and select knowledge-
able specialists to help them create the "ideal"
library--the forgiving building.
Anders C. Dahlgren
I have a couple of initial observations:
First, projections like these must be made
with trepidation because most crystal balls are
not very clear. With trepidation, I will direct
my comments to the small public library because
that's where much of my experience lies--for the
most part, in Wisconsin. There, two-thirds of
the public libraries serve less than 4,000 people
each; only eight percent of the libraries serve
more than 25,000. Similar conditions exist in
other states, and the needs of these smaller in-
stitutions are often overlooked when we discuss
library buildings.
Second, I believe that we are entering the
last major cycle of public library expansion in
many parts of the country--at least in the parts
of the country with which I'm familiar. Public
libraries are coming off of two or more generations
of generally consistent growth. During that time,
library collections and usage have grown consistently,
in some cases, dramatically. Furthermore, the
old twenty-year planning time-frame appears to
be more or less valid. Many of the libraries I'm
working with today saw new buildings or major
improvements as a result of the first rush of LSCA
Title II funding about twenty years ago, and their
facilities are starting to feel the pinch.
These libraries are looking to the future
again, but the view is different than it was twenty
years ago. In large parts of the country--the
rural Midwest and the industrial Northeast, for
example--communities are no longer growing in
the same way. Stasis, or even decline, has re-
placed steady or rapid growth. Libraries in these
settings will have to justify the customary expecta-
tions of continuing growth, and it will become
increasingly difficult to do so in the face of a
stabilizing population. Local funding authorities
will begin to question with greater insistence whether
the library needs to grow if the community it
serves isn't growing, and more and more the answer
they will hand the library is "No."
This observation is not meant to be totally
negative or to result in a dismal picture of the
future small library. The reality of limits to a
public library's collection size and service levels
may be more acceptable today than it was; new
techniques and technologies that improve access
to collections, even to those in the small library,

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