How to ruin your library: Being an ongoing series of instruction
Modernize your facility to the point of discomfort. When the big thinkers in city hall decide they want to build a new library so as to have a place for a bronze plaque with their names you are already halfway to perdition. In the absence of any controlling factor they will hire the most fashionable architect available, who will design a library that is the functional equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard. With any luck your library will become a thing of awkward angles, cold corridors and clashing décor—visited by more architectural students than people hoping to find shelter from the world's cares. If you can't afford the whole stainless-steel enchilada, you can easily find post-modernist chairs to torture your readers; there are carpets from sci-fi movies available; if you really want a "modern" touch you can open up the whole building so that any sound, from a belch to a copy machine's whine, resonates from cellar to dome. Above all, use no "warm" colors. Purchase bizarre glaring nonrepresentational murals to cover the walls. Make sure the interior is either baking in the full sun of noon or dark as the black hole of Calcutta. Oh, and spend a lot on art objects instead of regular old boring furniture. Most people come to the library to see sculpture, didn't you know? And best of all, your city hall geniuses can promote their pet causes at the same time: if you eliminate parking we'll all decide to ride bicycles and global warming will cease. Come to think of it, if we don't have books we can save a huge number of trees.
For a current example: See American Libraries, September/October 2013. The cover alone should put you off: The District of Columbia's Francis A. Gregory Neighborhood Library is featured. The picture is worth a thousand words, few of which could be printed in a family publication. We see a prime example of Star Trek architecture, with complex geometric shapes, cold and uninviting surfaces and postmodern motifs combining to delight the shopping mall patron. Only this isn't a shopping mall; it's a public library. After the initial "Oh Boy" response your visitor will eventually come to realize the value of all that angular décor, which is to say, precisely nothing: there are a few actual shelves for books and such with most of the space simply functioning as a palette for the designer's concepts. Of course modern architects seldom bother themselves with the actual functionality of their works. Give a look to the chairs, which seem like upholstered origami, and every bit as comfortable. The weird, bright colored fabrics should prove impossible to clean within a few months, though the effort will likely be expensive. The lofty ceilings remind one of the adage that empty space is useless though it must be heated, cooled and lighted. One cannot read or listen to blank overhead space, despite its popularity among designers. Of course the library is no longer for materials: it is a place of ideas. Pretty soon public libraries will simply display one or two books and a few computers in the midst of a vast difficult and puzzling but fascinating hard-to-clean public space that will honor both the mind of the architect and the gall of the board who approved the plans.
Really fine examples
Los Angeles Public Library Main, in which the renovation of a fire-gutted monument got politicked until the final product resembled the mating of a paddle wheel boat with a nuclear submarine.
The Seattle Public Library occupies a class by itself. Garish, harsh, unfriendly, it might have been used as the set for an unreleased sequel to Blade Runner. In a hundred years, if it yet stands, that library will, like the church of the Sagrada Familia, have become famous simply for being bizarre, its actual function lost in the mess of its details.
Why do they do it?
A better question is why we let them. And the reason is that nobody sits down with actual library patrons and says "Hey, what are you looking for in a public library?" Because the library is not for its patrons—more to the point, it is not for the predictable uses expressed in the habits of library users over the past hundred or more years. Which is to say: it is no longer a place to store books, to read books, to use computers or to listen to music. Your father's library is gone, dude. The reading room is a thing of the past. The library doesn't want you there. Nor does it wish for you to have a vast collection of materials to browse. Come to think of it, it's hard to know what the library wants other than to dazzle. Oh, and to qualify their buildings as environmentally friendly, which is a laugh considering how environmentally unfriendly some of them have become to actual human beings. We seem to be saving the planet while killing off our patron base.
What I want, as a lifelong patron of the public library, is this:
I want a place to find books, music, recordings and other such things; I want to be able to use a computer when necessary; I want a place, conveniently located, where I can find an actual librarian—not a phone hookup or a computer link to some "information specialist." I want all this in a comfortable place, with decent seating, good lighting and a flat surface to work on. Please provide heating and cooling appropriate to the season, and a restroom on each floor. I am not looking for an outer space experience or a journey through the mind of Salvador Dali, thank you. I'm thinking closer to Andrew Carnegie than Stanley Kubrick. Thanks.