12 October, 2010

Seattle Library

Seattle City Library

The second city we visited on our US tour was Seattle, and for many of us it was our favourite place. The City has a good feeling about it and is set beautifully into Puget Sound.

The Library is just amazing, it has won a number of architectural prizes and is a real iconic building for the City.

Seattle Library has 26 branches and 1 Central Library. In 1998 Seattle voters approved a USD$196M bond measure to fund the “Libraries for All” building program. The program was delivered from 1998-2008 under the leadership of the then City Librarian Deborah L. Jacobs. It was one of the largest and most comprehensive library capital construction programs in the U.S. and included the renovation of 22 branches, the construction of 4 new branches plus the construction of the new Central Library.

The “Libraries for All” program is now complete and under the leadership of the new City Librarian Susan Hildreth, the Seattle Public Library is currently engaging the community to develop a new strategic direction.

The new library opened in 2004. It is double the size of the former Central Library built in the 1960’s on the same site.

Size: 412,000 sq ft; including 49,000 sq ft for parking.
Cost: USD$165M
Library bookstock: 1.4m items
Public Computers: 400

This bold and innovative building was designed by international award winning Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. It is a contemporary steel structure cut like a diamond and wrapped in glass. Occupying a full city block the library is one of the city’s icons.

This library is built over 11 levels and is a series of asymmetric platforms positioned so as to transform a rather ordinary outlook into spectacular internal and external views with multiple vantage points. The library was awarded a silver LEED rating for sustainable environmental design and construction.

04 October, 2010

US Libraries

Back in June and July I was lucky to be able to tour some US libraries - some of the biggest and most beautiful in the country and indeed the world. Our group of 14 visited Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Columbus, Washington DC and New York.

Over the next few weeks I will share the highlights from each city we visited.

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) system has over 6 million volumes and is one of the largest public library systems in the world. There are 72 branches and a beautiful Central Library that includes significant art works.

The library service was established in 1872 and had a vigorous growth during the 1920s. All branches have been refurbished over the past 15 years; these well managed programs (financed by 2 bonds) meant that there was budget for three extra branches to be built. Different architects have been used for all branches and all reflect their communities.

Los Angeles is going through what was described to us as the worst time financially the library has ever had. Prior to the current budgetary situation the usual opening hours for a Regional Library were 60 hours open week, and 40 hours per week for smaller branches. Over the past year opening hours have been reduced to 6 days per week (no Sundays) and following more budget cuts in the 2010/11 fiscal year will be reduced to 5 days; the average opening now is 40 hours per week. In order to minimise the impact of this, branches are being paired, with one branch open Monday –Friday; the other Tuesday –Saturday, with staff working between two branches.

Despite this, the library continues to provide much needed and valued services to an increasing number of people who use the library to improve their literacy, get assistance applying for jobs and providing a safe and secure place to spend time.