Walter Benjamin in Paris. Image © Gisèle Freund
Welcome to The Long(ish) Read: a new AD feature which uncovers texts written by notable essayists which resonate with contemporary architecture, interior architecture, urbanism or landscape design. In this essay, written in 1931, Walter Benjamin narrates the process of unpacking his library. All in boxes, he takes the reader through elements of his book collection: the memories attached to them, the importance he placed on the act of ‘collecting’ and the process of accumulation, and how objects like books inhabit a space.
Walter Benjamin in brief
Born in Germany in 1892, Benjamin was known as a ‘man of letters’. Having been educated in Switzerland he had a short career in the lead up to the Second World War, which saw him carve a niche as a literary critic. In the 1930s he turned to Marxism, partly due to the influence of Bertolt Brecht and partly due to the rise of extreme right-wing politics in Europe. He spent much of his professional life in Paris, where he wrote this essay. Benjamin died in 1940 having committed suicide at the French–Spanish border while attempting to escape the Nazis. Read more...
On a recent visit to the new Hunt Library at the Centennial Campus of the North Carolina State University, I observed an unusual sight – for most libraries that is. A group of individuals, they might have been prospective students and their parents or perhaps just a group participating in some summer workshop, was highly immersed in a rather unique library experience. They were learning about and watching a demonstration of the Library’s robotic Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS), and rather enjoying how the Bookbot’s robot arm moved crates of books to and fro. The visitors were clearly immersed in this particular library experience. With a glass wall through which it could all be observed, the building’s designers clearly intended for this spectacle to catch the attention of all those entering the library. While it delivered a unique experience, did it motivate anyone in the crowd to search the catalog or move on to the stacks to find a book of their own? Or did they simply move on to the next destination point the way one might if touring the White House or Hoover Dam?
The question of the extent to which we should be re-thinking and re-designing the library experience as both immersive and interactive was the subject of an essay questioning similar work in the world of art museums. The author, Judith H. Dobrzynski, asks if it shouldn’t be enough to just view the artwork by yourself or with other people and obtain enjoyment or satisfaction from being exposed to great art. Why does it have to be embellished by some sort of artificially attached experience? She writes:
For decades, museums have offered social experiences — the fact that you can talk while you’re in the galleries has always given them an edge over the performing arts — and that is good. Now is the balance shifting too far to the experience? Are they losing what makes them unique? Should museums really follow the path of those “experience” businesses…In this kind of world, the thrill of standing before art — except perhaps for works by boldface-name artists like van Gogh, Vermeer, Monet and Picasso — seems not quite exciting enough for most people. What’s a museum to do? Read more….
- Hinchliffe- Furthering information literacy practice through immersive professional development (slideshare.net)
- Register – Designing Libraries conference (cni.org)
- New Cedar Rapids Public Library ready to open (thegazette.com)
- The future of libraries (thenextweb.com)
- One card, many libraries bodes well (kansascity.com)