Can this really be December already? Weather doesn’t seem to know it yet. It’s been a beautiful season here in the Berkshires, great for climbing hills and walking trails. Also for dreaming big about architecture in North Adams, as my friend and Williams classmate, Tom Krens ’69, has been doing.
But now I mean to buckle down and finish putting together my visual essay on the new Stetson-Sawyer library complex. Just as I did repeatedly as a student at Williams fifty years ago, I’m going to have to ask for an extension. Check back around the turn of the year, and I’ll be taking you on an illustrated tour.
For now I simply quote from John Palfrey’s recent book, BiblioTECH: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, all from the chapter titled, “Spaces: The Connection Between the Virtual and the Physical.” These words struck me as highly relevant to the experience of the new Williams College library.
“A successful library space supports library patrons as they make use of information in a variety of formats – no matter how the format or user access evolves in the coming years. Librarians – and the architects of libraries, for that matter – are grappling seriously with the connection between physical architecture and information architecture. One might infer that once the books are no longer in analog format, the need for library spaces will go away. That inference turns out to be wrong.”
“Libraries provide essential contemplative spaces in the midst of an otherwise bustling, distracting world. The aura of a library reading room – whether designed for academics or for the public – is conducive to study. The primary function of the space is obvious: to read, reflect, write, and prepare for tests.”
“The contemplative spaces in libraries are well worth preserving, in part because they are lovely and in part because the always-on, highly connected pace of digital-era life can be overwhelming.”
“A second reason students might come to a library space, even if physical books are not part of the equation, is for the support and camaraderie that other humans provide… The long hours required to master [any subject] can go by more quickly for friends who are sharing the same experience, studying at one another’s side, perhaps taking the same breaks to refill their coffee cups.”
“Libraries are shifting from places where information is used to places where information is created and shared… Libraries need to offer some spaces that are quiet and contemplative and others that are bustling and exciting… Libraries, as spaces, need to continue to inspire the public to dream big and to think great thoughts.”
This seems to me a partial checklist of the requirements that the new Stetson/Sawyer complex has met admirably. I’ll be back soon with more specifics.