Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New Libraries..Minneapolis and Seattle

(Note: All pictures in this post is of the Seattle Central Library. Pictures of the Minneapolis Central Library are in the next post)

Last day of vacation was a one-day lay-over in Seattle. Wife, mother-in-law and daughter wanted to spend time at Pike Place Market. After walking through ALL of it, we walked over to the new Seattle Central Library and caught up to a tour.

A little background--there seems to be some competition between the library communities in Minneapolis and Seattle over their new libraries (at least on the Minneapolis end--probably because of the typical Midwestern feeling of inadequacy--)

  • Both are brand new--Seattle opened less than three years ago, Minneapolis opened last year.
  • The two libraries are about the same size--around 360,000 square feet.
  • Minneapolis has more items in their collection--Mpls has about 3,000,000, Seattle has about 2,000,000.
  • Minneapolis's new central library cost about $130,000, Seattle's cost about $170,000.
  • Both were designed by "name" architects--Seattle by by Rem Klaus--one of the currently "hot" architects; Minneapolis was designed by Cesar Pelli--an architect of international standing.

I'll give you my bottom line first (it is probably biased since I'm on the Minneapolis Library Board --but I was not involved in the design of or building the library, I joined the board 3 months before it opened) Minneapolis won.

The Seattle library is beautiful. It is a sculpture. It is creative. It is a beautiful example of the "industrial" look. That is one of it's problems. It is very cold. It is very sterile. It is not welcoming. It doesn't feel like home. The space called the "Living Room" doesn't feel like a place to curl up in a chair with a good book. A few more problems:

  • The structure has walls and ceiling/roof of small, diamond shaped windows. This could let a lot of light in but the deep structural elements seem to block most of the light and most of the views.
  • It is hard to find your way around. Staff has added nicely lettered foam-core signs propped up on walls to help people find their way.
  • There is no front door. There are four different doors on four corners that don't give you a feeling of entering an important building.
  • The building looks like it will be expensive to maintain--that is just a guess.
  • Many areas where librarians have to work are concrete floors--hard on the feet.
  • All the library staff seem to be behind desks--the new model for service delivery is to have library staff out with the patrons.
  • The Children's Library looks like it is just another room with a few added sculptures. It doesn't have comfortable kid-friendly spaces. It also has two entries that are not controlled by any library staff--one very near an outside door(a security issue).
  • It appears that the floor plan is can not be easily modified as library use changes in the future.

The new Minneapolis Central Library is a little boring. Two boxes connected with a central atrium. This is the same basic plan of the old library. The two boxes are primarily glass walls. It looks very open-it reinforces open access to information.

  • The glass walls let in more light since there is little structure in the way (or maybe it was because Seattle was very cloudy and dark when we were there.) It looks very open.
  • You enter from either one of two sides to a five story glass atrium. You feel like you are entering a very important building.
  • It is easy to find your way around--the layout of each floor is basically the same and the floor plan is very open.
  • There are few structural walls. It should be easy to change the layout as library functions change.
  • The Children's library inspires imagination and has lots of little places to sit down and read. It is secure--one entrance at the librarian's desk.
  • The Teen Center is a separate space designed with the help of teens. It has great outside views and seems to draw teens.
  • It has fire places and comfortable chairs.
  • It's lighting is bright but not harsh
  • I think the Minneapolis system did a much better job using it's arts budget.

A few problems with the new Minneapolis library:

  • It is set between two parking lots and a parking ramp. Hopefully one of those parking lots will become a park.
  • It is not connected to the Minneapolis skyway system. It is designed to be but there is now money to do it and the building owner to the south doesn't want a skyway connection.
  • The special collections room is only open very limited hours.
  • As far as I can tell, the fireplaces have never been turned on.
  • The library is only open five days a week and only two nights a week. It is closed totally on Sunday and Monday.
  • Minneapolis recently had to close three community libraries because of budget problems (this wasn't because of the New Central Library but just shows the lack of funding)

The bottom line--while I like the Minneapolis Central Library more than Seattle's, Seattle can keep their libraries open reasonable hours.

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