The past twenty years have seen a building boom for downtown public libraries. From Brooklyn to Seattle, architects, civic leaders, and citizens in major U.S. cities have worked to reassert the relevance of the central library. While the libraries’ primary functions—as public spaces where information is gathered, organized, preserved, and made available for use—have not changed over the years, the processes by which they accomplish these goals have. These new processes, and the public debates surrounding them, have radically influenced the utility and design of new library buildings.
In The New Downtown Library, Shannon Mattern draws on a diverse range of sources to investigate how libraries serve as multiuse public spaces, anchors in urban redevelopment, civic icons, and showcases of renowned architects like Rem Koolhaas, Cesar Pelli, and Enrique Norton. Mattern’s clear and careful analysis reveals the complexity of contemporary dialogues in library design, highlighting the roles that staff, the public, and other special interest groups play. Mattern also describes how the libraries manifest changing demographics, new ways of organizing collections and delivering media, and current philosophies of librarianship.
By identifying unifying themes as well as examining the differences among various design projects, Mattern brings to light the social forces, as well as their architectural expressions, that form the essence of new libraries and their vital place in public life.
Featured libraries are located in Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, and Toledo.