Showering in the Library

It was a hot, dusty day in Moab, Utah. I drove into town from my beautiful campsite overlooking the La Sal Mountains, where I’d been cycling and exploring the beautiful country. I was taking a few days off from work, and even though I was relaxing, I had a phone call I didn’t want to reschedule. So back to town I went, straight to—naturally—the public library. I had fond memories of the library from a previous visit a few years back: a beautiful building with reliable Wi-Fi. Aside from not being allowed to bring coffee inside, it would be a great place to check email and take a call on the bench outside.

As I entered the library, I decided that transitioning from adventure mode to work mode required, at least, washing some of Moab’s ample sand and dust off of my hands. I washed my hands and what happened next I did automatically, without consideration or contemplation: I cupped my hands and splashed some water on my face. Refreshing! I then wet a paper towel to wipe the sunscreen off of the back of my neck.

It was at about this point that I realized just what was going on; I was the guy bathing in the library restroom!

Half shocked, half amused by my actions, I quickly made sure I didn’t drip anywhere and sully the otherwise very clean and pleasant basin.

Contextually appropriate

I can’t say I’m proud of my mindless act, but it did get me thinking about the very sensitive issue of appropriate behavior in libraries.

I’m not going on a campaign encouraging libraries to offer showers to their patrons, but not because I think the idea is ridiculous. I actually think it is a legitimate potential service offering. That such a service would likely be useful for only a very small segment of library users is one reason why it isn’t worth ­pursuing.

But as a theoretical concept, I find nothing inherently wrong or illogical with the idea of a library offering showers. It is simply an idea that hasn’t found many appropriate contexts.

Even so, with the smallest amount of imagination I can think of contexts in which this could work. What about a multiuse facility that houses a restaurant, a gym, a coworking space, and a library? Seems like an amazing place. And don’t forget that the new central library in Helsinki, Finland—to be completed in 2017—will feature sauna facilities. These will be contextually and culturally ­appropriate.

Challenging assumptions

This is about more than showers and saunas. It is about our long-held assumptions and how we react to new ideas. When we’re closed off to concepts without examining them fully, or without exploring the frameworks in which they exist, we’re unlikely truly to innovate or create any radically meaningful experiences. When evaluating new initiatives, we should consider the library less and our communities more. Without this sort of thinking, we’d have never realized libraries with popular materials, web access, and instructional classes, let alone cafés, gaming nights, and public health nurses.

Learning about our contexts—our communities—takes more than facilitating surveys and leading focus groups. After all, those techniques put less emphasis on people and more on their opinions. Even though extra work is required, the techniques aren’t mysterious. There are well-established methods we can use to learn about the individuals in our areas and then design contextually appropriate programs and services.

To the Grand County Public ­Library in Moab, my apologies for the slight transgression. I did leave the restroom in the same shape as I found it. To ­everyone else, if you’re in Moab, visit the library. But if you need a place to clean up in that city, try the aquatic center. It has nice pools and clean ­showers.

A new identity for Copenhagen children’s library




The identity is based on a modular system of shapes that can form different characters and patterns. The idea is that the kids can have fun with this system – creating stories and characters of their own – and that the identity can continue to grow in many direction. [via HVASS&HANNIBAL]

Wow. The act of creation is built in to the identity of the library. Super cool.

“The result was very surprising – the children generally prefered the more simple designs, whereas the librarians prefered the more complex ones with lots of details. So in the end we decided on keeping the logo very simple with the possibilty of adding details when combining it with more of the identity’s shapes…” [via Creative Review]

Librarians preferring complexity? You don’t say!



Signs On Signs. Never Good.

It probably isn’t a good idea to post signs on your library that read “library closed” when that’s not what you mean. Removing the paragraph at the bottom (that no one is going to read anyway) would have freed up the space to include “will be” inline.

These signs on signs are particularly unfortunate because, even though the overall design of the sign is lacking, the visual design is perfectly okay.

The signs’ nice visual design is also rendered less effective by the “let’s laminate these with packing tape” implementation. It detracts from the professionalism that nice looking signs might otherwise express.

Saul Bass for the Bell System

Here’s the pitch that Saul Bass gave to the Bell System when he was updating their identity. It isn’t a must watch but I’m posting it for a couple of reasons.

#1). The beginning is really weird. I can’t imagine how this played to a bunch of corporate execs. The 60s!

#2) The second part contains a nice introduction to logo design and typography. It also is a mostly non-annoying explanation of what logos and identities do. It also highlights how this identity was more than a logo. It was a system of elements that included a wide range of things – from jewelry to printed material to trucks.

Each impression contributes to the whole. Each signal, one piece of a mosaic.

Libraries would benefit from this attention to detail and holistic thinking.

Libraries in Which I’d Live: Stuttgart Edition

I don’t know anything about the services of the library or what goes on there. Let’s hope they’re as striking as the building!

Clicking though the city’s photos I noticed that the mayor handed out library branded chocolate at the grand opening.

I only mention this because the chocolate bars are the square shaped Ritter Sport, one of my favorites. The shape of the bars match the cube design of the building.

Previously Libraries in Which I’d Live
Lukenwalde Edition
Glaspaleis Edition

[pictures via Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart’s photostream]

Space Issues

Is the furniture in your library being used as originally intended?

[hang2column]How planners probably imagined people using this space[/hang2column]

[hang2column]How people are actually using this space[/hang2column]

Sometimes people use library spaces in unintended ways. This behavior can expose design flaws and offer clues for improvements.

I Visited the Kenton Branch of Multonomah County Library & Liked It.

The space has a really nice feel due in part to pleasant natural light and smart furniture. Without looking temporary, the desks and stacks seem modular and I bet the space could easily be configured in different arrangements.

One service desk. No chair for the librarians. Love it. If I remember correctly, this is one of MCL’s branches doing a good job with reference beyond the desk.

MCL has a great collection called “Lucky Day.” The items are popular books exempt from the usual reserves queue. This is a fun idea that puts a positive spin on someone’s experience when they connect with a book they want. Offering a variable ratio schedule of returns, I bet it could be an effective way to get people into the building. Get lucky at the library.

It would have been my lucky day if I hadn’t already bought this book.

The library is in the midst of a bunch of neighborhood shops, restaurants and bars – a central location for the neighborhood. The “LIBRARY” sign looks great, appears to use the sign fixture for whatever was in that space before and is contextually appropriate. Nice job MCL!