Last year two Danish librarians – Christian Lauersen and Marie Eiriksson – founded Library Planet: a worldwide, crowdsourced, online library travel guide. According to them, Library Planet inspires travellers “to open the awesome book that is our world of libraries, cities and countries”.
Library Planet now has dozens of intriguing profiles –from Burma, Iceland, Tanzania and French Polynesia to name a few.
A recent entry celebrated the Melbourne Cricket Club library at the MCG.
All hail the librarian
Reports of the death of the library are certainly exaggerated. People, including young people, continue to use and appreciate libraries. People are still investing in libraries, and they are still buying and reading books.
Libraries as physical spaces have been transformed. Library architecture is a wonderful site of experimentation. (Great examples include the new Library of Alexandria, China’s amazing Tianjin Binhai Library and the Bunjil Place library in Melbourne’s outer East.)
Library spaces now permit an expansive variety of uses. In the curation and mobilisation of collections and resources, librarians are making the best of our digital future, without discarding our analogue past.
The tourism effect
Librarians are also welcoming library tourists as well as regular users and other visitors. In 2016, the New York Public Library reportedly hosted 18 million visitors – many of them from other municipalities, states and countries. That same year, the National Library of China, the largest library in Asia, welcomed 5.6 million visitors.
The State Library of Victoria, is also among the world’s most visited libraries. According to that institution’s latest annual report, the library hosted precisely 1,937,643 visitors last year, and had more than twice as many on-line interactions.
Glue or gum?
Is there a downside to all this visiting? Are we just setting up another tension, in which libraries are victims of their own success, and locals compete with tourists for library space and time? Could our best libraries come to resemble parts of Amsterdam and Venice: Could the “social glue” of libraries be replaced by tourists’ discarded chewing gum?
In our more humble municipal libraries, the library tourists certainly don’t outnumber the locals, but there is definitely tension between the demands of different types of library users.
The modern library is a humanist project, founded on inclusion rather than division. Today, it is possible for libraries to be islands of humanity. In the future, if we are unlucky, they might become its warehouses. But with luck, they’ll be its wellsprings.
Edited from: “The Conversation” www.conversation.com.au
Author: Stuart Kells: Adjunct Professor, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, La Trobe University
Cover image: The Tianjin Binhai Library, which is also called ‘The Eye’, opened in 2017. aap