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  • Introduction
  • Alistair Black (bio) and Nan Dahlkild (bio)

The history of information and communication technology (ICT)—from prehistoric cave paintings and smoke signals to television and the Internet —shows that innovations rarely consign established technologies to oblivion immediately. The past pattern of development and use of technologies is one of overlap (Van Dijk, 1999, p. 6). It is no surprise, therefore, that oral culture, manuscript writing, print, film, radio, and television have not only survived into the digital age but have adapted to, and been enhanced by, digital technology. Another ICT that has negotiated the digital age—with some flair it has to be said—is the library building. In all kinds of ways the physical library has embraced the computer. The era of the hybrid library has arrived. The marriage of the traditional library to the “library without walls” is progressing happily, it seems, even if die-hards in each camp remain: those who regard the computer with suspicion; and those who see the future of library provision as purely digital. Throughout history, library buildings have adapted to society’s beliefs, precepts, and aspirations. This adaptability has also been evident in the digital age. Library domains have been rebranded—as idea stores, learning cafés, discovery centers, media spaces, and learning resource centers, to give just a few examples. Further, while it is true that the emergence and increasing sophistication of digital ICTs has sharply increased fears of a library- and print-culture Armageddon, the physical library building has accommodated, with some success, the proliferation of virtual technologies (Bahr, 2000). Indeed, the computer has in many respects enhanced the operations of the traditional library, bestowing upon it a new flexibility, not least in terms of greater opportunities and creativity in the organization of physical space, as materials are miniaturized and digitized (Pomerantz & Marchionini, 2007; Taylor, 1995; Webb, 2000). [End Page 1]

The physical library refuses to go away. Indeed, in the past twenty years there has been a renaissance in library building (Mittler, 2004), including a great deal of sympathetic and inventive library renovation (Martin, 2003). The explosion of digital technology has been accompanied by a large-scale investment in the physical library, in new and renovated library spaces “that delight” (Sannwald, 2006). The radical renewal of library services has not been at the expense of physical spaces where access can be gained to physical formats as well as cyberspace. When the social power of the computer first became apparent in the 1960s, for many the survival of the traditional library appeared mortally threatened. Writing in the UK’s Times newspaper in 1970, Peter Harvard-Williams, Librarian of Queen’s University Belfast, predicted that partly due to the growth of “computers, tele-terminals, and more up-to-date forms of communication,” there would be “an all-out attack” on libraries in the next ten years;” libraries, he warned, would become simply “posting stations” where information is merely passed on. Harvard-Williams was wrong in his prediction.

Notwithstanding the optimism that surrounded the fresh, modern library styles of the 1960s, not since the explosion in library provision around a century ago—in this regard, and especially in the public library context, the gifts of Andrew Carnegie and other philanthropists were critical—has interest in library design been so high. This issue of Library Trends seeks to tap the enthusiasm we have recently been seeing for debate about, and innovation in, library design (we use the word design because it connotes coverage of both architecture and interior design). Furthermore, this issue adds to the growing body of work on the history of library design. In contributions that address both the current scene and historical subjects, attention is paid to the proposition that buildings are rooted in society, that built forms are informed by social forms (King, 1980; Markus, 1993). We thus acknowledge the inventive methodologies that have begun to emerge in the interpretation of current and past library design where, complementary to written sources, observation of the material culture of the library is encouraged and where inferential evidence is freely admitted.1

Over the decades Library Trends has reported the response of libraries to technological developments and shifting patron demands in...


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