“Long Live All Our Public Libraries,” New York Daily News (August 1, 2021)
“Local Codes: Spatial Forms of Knowledge,” Public Knowledge (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, January 18, 2019).
I collaborated with the Architectural League of New York and the Center for an Urban Future to organize a design study that identifies the challenges that New York’s branch libraries face, and proposes design solutions to stimulate conversation about means to support the city’s three library systems and the vital services they provide. In consulted on the request for qualifications; attended research meetings; served on the jury that chose the five finalist teams from among 45 applicants; delivered presentations on current library design trends; consulted with library leader Nate Hill about experimentation in library programming and design (our interview was published in Urban Omnibus); contributed to the development of the teams’ design challenges; attended review meetings and served as a critic at the mid-process review.
The findings of the study were presented in a public forum at the Japan Society on December 4, 2014; lots of city officials, designers, and library directors from across the country attended. The design teams again presented their proposals in a more design-focused — i.e., less policy-oriented — forum at The New School on January 12, 2015; I moderated that event. And the following summer I was commissioned to write a reflective essay about the process: my “Middlewhere: The Landscapes of Library Logistics,” which again appeared in Urban Omnibus, examined the critical links between the nodes our regional library systems.
You can find more info here.
“Library as Infrastructure,” Places (June 9, 2014)
Reprint in Strategic Library (a library trends/innovation newsletter) 17 (June 15, 2015): 7-11.
Bahasa Indonesian translation: “Perpustakaan Sebagai Infrastruktur,” C2O Library & Collaborative (May 25, 2017)
In April 2015, — a day after I gave a public lecture on library design at Smith College — I led a faculty design workshop to help them begin thinking about what they want in their new library building. I’ve participated in plenty of design workshops, but I’ve never organized one of my own. I set a few guidelines: no post-its, no play-doh, no infantilizing activities; more focus on values and epistemologies and how they relate to concrete design choices. If I were to do this again, I’d change a few things: e.g., leave more time for group reporting, and separate out — or collapse — the various conceptual “audits” that I asked the groups to do. But on the whole, I think it (not I, but the process itself) generated a really vibrant discussion, helped folks get excited for the forthcoming design process — and reminded them that librarians have unique insights, concerns, and sensibilities that must be heard in the design process.
I offer a little overview of our activities and share the “official” agenda here.
“Precedents for Experimentation: Talking Libraries with Shannon Mattern and Nate Hill,” Urban Omnibus (July 16, 2014).
I organized a panel on library tech developments for the Mobility Shifts conference at The New School, and I was fortunate to gather a fantastic group of experts — Kim Dulin from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab; Deanna Lee, VP of Communication at the NYPL; and Linda E. Johnson, Interim Director of the Brooklyn Public Library — to take part. Here’s an audio recording of our conversation.
The panel took place on Friday, October 13, from 4 to 6pm in the Theresa Lang Center, on the 2nd floor at 55 West 13th Street.
Here’s our abstract:
America’s public libraries, as the dominant narrative goes, afforded all people “the means of acquiring knowledge, self-education, [and] culture” (Oscar Bluemner, 1898). Libraries, in their dual – and often precariously balanced – commitments to cultural uplift and cultural outreach, have long been, at least in theory, places of self-directed, DIY learning. As materials once available only in the stacks have become ever more accessible in people’s homes and in their pockets, libraries’ strategies for cultural outreach, and for supporting patrons’ self-education, have evolved. Libraries are developing new ways for patrons to access their collections; drawing attention to underutilized collections; and helping users filter and contextualize material. Meanwhile, international organizations are using technology to bring libraries to regions of the world where they’d been scarce. And many of these initiatives are creating new opportunities for patrons to do things with or contribute to material in libraries’ collections.
Recent library-led technology development projects have attracted attention. As Alexis Madrigal wrote on The Atlantic’s website in June 2011, the New York Public Library “has reevaluated its role within the Internet information ecosystem and found a set of new identities” – as a “social network with three million active users” and as a “media outfit,” a “beacon in the carcass-strewn content landscape.” This panel examines how three different institutions – two public libraries and an academic library research unit – are helping to reshape the information ecosystem and creating new roles for themselves within it. Kim Dulin from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab will discuss their work in developing a front-end web application, a “virtual front door,” for the proposed Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). As Dulin notes, this interface will allow the DPLA to become more than “just a collection”; it will be “a place users can go to discover works, engage with them, engage with one another, and share what they learn, know, and care about.” Deanna Lee, of the New York Public Library, will address several recent digital initiatives – the Biblion application, a John Cage “living archive,” a crowdsourced historical menu transcription project, and a new, more interactive library catalogue – that likewise change the ways and places in which patrons can access, experience, organize, and contribute to the collections. Linda E. Johnson will address the Brooklyn Public Library’s Broadband Technology and Opportunities Program and other of the library’s digital literacy initiatives. Finally, Shannon Mattern will identify common threads in the panelists’ presentations and offer prompts for discussion, which will address (1) how these projects provide opportunities for self-directed learning in new contexts; (2) how they evidence new thinking about pedagogy and epistemology; and (3) what the challenges and limitations of these projects might be, particularly as we attempt to implement them among traditionally underserviced populations and in the developing world.
“Resonant Texts: Sounds of the Contemporary American Public Library,” The Senses & Society 2:3 (Fall 2007): 277-302.
“Just How Public Is the Seattle Public Library? Publicity, Posturing and Politics in Public Design” Journal of Architectural Education 57:1 (Fall 2003): 5-18
Reprinted in Ruth Dalton & Christoph Holscher, Eds., Take One Building: Interdisciplinary Research Perspectives of the Seattle Public Library (Ashgate, forthcoming 2016)