Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Reinventing the Library, from Intelligent Life's Summer 2010 issue, delves into the changing relationship between physical spaces and the activities that take place within those spaces. At the same time, it highlights the evolving nature of our most basic cultural activities and some of the responses we are trying in order to adjust to the fundamental changes taking place.

As a side note, the article presents additional evidence that the intuitive assumptions we make regarding the changes wrought by technology upon our more traditional activities may not be correct. The just released NEA study Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation and the recent National Theatre study of the effect of simultaneous broadcasts of their productions on attendance at live theater, Beyond Liveboth provide evidence of the dangers of making unsbstantiated assumptions.

People have feared that the broadcast of live opera and theater in movie theaters would cannibalize or destroy attendance at the live performance. Audience 2.0 presents data that audiences who experience performances digitally are more engaged and have a higher rate of attendance at live performances than those who do not. Beyond Live found that digital performances of England's National Theater reached a different audience than those already attending the live performance. By and large, these audiences were poorer and were more likely to have not been to the theater before. Furthermore, those seeing the performances in the theaters said they were more likely to attend a live performance when they were in London than they had been before seeing the digital performance.

Similarly, Reinventing the Library, while explaining how reading has been negatively impacted by technological innovation, explores the increased investment in library buildings that cities are making. Central to this investment, however, is the reimagining of the relationship between the public and the library and the function the library fulfills. The implication of the article is that libraries continue to serve as vital centers of community and communal activity, though they may not be limited solely to providing safe shelters for private reading and investigation. Rather, the relationship between the reader and the library has changed and libraries' needs are adjusting.

As in the music industry, the television and film industry, and the live performance industry, distribution sources and delivery methods have multiplied dramatically, throwing our established industries and businesses into turmoil. Library architects are in the forefront of revitalizing the library by redesigning their physical being, and through such changes, the very raison d'etre of the library. Thus, they will survive and be strengthened.

What is most striking and heartening about these trends is that rather then abandoning the traditional arts we all adore, some are choosing to reimagine them and our relationship with these arts, thus insuring their future viability and health.