The Architectural League held a panel discussion tonight focusing on key players in the L!ibrary Initiative Project. To quickly summarize, this movement began in New York City in 2000 with lofty goals of retrofitting every public school in the five Burroughs with not just a space for books, but a dynamic and interactive containment of learning and imagination. Since that time, the initiative has worked in three phases to make its way though over fifty city schools, creating attractive and thought-provoking spaces in each through an interdisciplinary collaboration of the highest degree. This initiate has become the largest public-private endeavor in history, with the Robin Hood Foundation (a private organization) teaming with city agencies, architects, and builders to create not just individual libraries, but a motion of excitement and a passion for learning opportunities for entire communities.
I can merely gloss over the achievements and accolades surrounding this large of project with a single blog post. Rather, I hope to be able to capture the excitement and enthusiasm for public change that I witnessed tonight and pass it along to others. When one contemplates the physical form of a library, it is easy to neglect the deeper symbolism behind such a space. As the panelists pointed out this evening, it is often easy for a library to become a place to store books - a place one goes to get something....perhaps the equivalent of a grocery store. However, the library can, and must, be much more than a place to access and store information. A primary objective of 'The L!ibrary Initiative' became to create spaces that encouraged creation and exchange. A variety of factors contribute to this over-arching goal, which the opening speaker and author of The L!brary Book, Annoradha Iyer Siddiqi, did an excellent job of outlining.
Throughout the process of 'reinventing the library' these steps were followed:
1. Redefine Mission:
How can a new library better serve its intended community?
Renowned architects were recruited (all working probono!) to create truly engaging designs. Spaces were carved out of existing building structures, often combining two or three classrooms in a centralized location. This gave the new library a prominent and influential position in the building and ensured that each school was dedicated to this new space.
Many generous contributions were made, and new books and technological equipment was provided. This step encompassed a mission to combine technological advancements with a traditional library structure to aid in the creation of an advanced age of education.
A library space cannot fully come to life without a trained an knowledgeable librarian to guide its process. As the library evolves, it becomes not just a static resource, but a dynamic space. For this reason, excellent classroom teachers were chosen to achieve Masters of Library Science degrees in order to better foster this new environment.
Much talk was given to quantifying the success of such a project. Perhaps my favorite point of the evening was that this initiative is impossible to quantify. For we are not striving merely to increase test scores and graduation percentages, but to create a quality of education and physical space that will foster growth and a sense of achievement within a community. It is too early in such an endeavor to truly judge the success of this mission, but as the founder and executive director of The Robin Hood Foundation pointed out - the hundreds of people and millions of dollars dedicated and poured into this initiative are not doing so to receive gratification or witness quantifiable results to know that it is a worthy mission. Rather, all of these individuals and organizations are dedicated to this mission because they know it is the right thing to do.
This was probably one of the best panel discussions I have attended, and that number is quite high. I was impressed with each individual's ability to portray their role and point of view, while feeding off one another to delve into aspects of the initiative in detail. It was a discussion orbiting around a collective passion for this project and for the mission of establishing in every child's life the opportunity to learn and create. In a way, this panel symbolized the overall mission of The L!ibrary Initiate, for it is when we are able to work together to initiate ideas and discuss problems that we are able to produce great work and benefit society as a whole.
The L!ibrary Book
I was so impassioned by the lively discussion this evening that I immediately purchased The L!ibrary Book by Annoradha Iyer Siddiqi. As a young architect who practically lives in front of an ephemeral computer screen, this commitment speaks for itself! I encourage you all to look into this informative read as well.