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Top 10 Public Libraries of the New Age

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As a child in school, I had a real passion for reading. Once I started a book, you couldn't pry it out of my hands if you tried; I would spend countless hours sat on a couch in the library of my school, immersed in tales of adventure, fortune and magic. Times have changed radically since and we've now got the Kindle, Nook & iPad, but for me, nothing beats the pleasure of a good, printed book and a quiet place to read. In this week's article, I'd like to explore the idea of the Library in the 21st Century with you all.

In the age of the internet and rapid media consumption, the library has inevitably lost its granted presence within people's lives and thus, within cities and even campuses. According to the BBC, 12.8% of the adult population in England visited a Library in 2010, falling from 16.4% in 2005 and there are plans to close many there. The library was once an institution of knowledge; civilisations prospered and educated their masses through the great libraries of history.

But today, our libraries are being replaced by the internet as a primary research tool by students and book-reading is on the decline. In my opinion we mustn't let libraries slowly disappear from our cultural landscapes; we need to redefine their roles to ensure that they are relevant in providing that kind of entertainment and food for the mind that the digital world never can. So what can we do, from an architectural point of view, to keep libraries alive and most importantly, meaningful?

My Top 10 selection of more recent public libraries here showcases some ideas. For starters, just like most public buildings, the library needs to become as a new hub for social life among the local community. Programatically, this has been reflected in the fact that many have become much less formal, much less guarded and much more inviting. Libraries all around are moving towards a model that encourages readers to stay and linger, instead of their original function as spaces for collecting and lending out books. Reflecting the general trend for libraries to facilitate reading as well as other functions, they are combined with halls and meeting rooms that promote social exchange between users, much like community centers.

More after the break.

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In Singapore, Bishan Community Library by LOOK architects encourages both the young and old to pass through its doors whenever they can. Almost like a modern tree-house, the library consists of colored pods that act as a retreat for a good book or as a place to meet & share your thoughts with others.

Libraries like OMA's Seattle Central Library and The Oloron-Sainte-Marie Multimedia Centre by Pascale Guédot, have bravely embraced new technology, providing open access to and celebrating the digital.

Last but not least, there has been an evolution in the perception of the value of libraries; as a public space rather than just a public service -- which adds to the argument that this particular public building typology is very far from becoming outdated.

Coelacanth K&H Architects introduce their Kanazawa Umimirai Library with:

Reading - for the sake of knowledge or enjoyment, or to explore the world of the human imagination -- is one of those experiences that gives you a sense of emotional and spiritual richness quite different from economic or monetary well-being. In this sense, the act of creating a space that surrounds you with books is undoubtedly linked to the creation of a new, enriched sense of public values.

I think this is very sound reasoning as to why libraries must innovate to find ways to fit into our lives today.

The concept of the library seems to have been maturing together with the technological and social transformations of our lives and at this point appears to be more vibrant than ever. Do you agree? Do you have any other examples of great libraries around the world?