libraries as cognitive spaces

A commentary on the potential of the library in our lives

Traditional libraries have not been popular for a long time. People have sought knowledge, people have been curious, people have wanted to explore the history of ideas… but the specific structure of operation that libraries demands a lot of prior-knowledge and pre-existing capacity in its user. A huge majority of users neither possess the entire scope of this knowledge, nor do they have the capacity to gain this knowledge. They largely depend on the expert users to help them access the library.

Library users need to know to identify and isolate the correct keywords in relation to a topic. They need to know how to read the Dewey decimal system following which the books are arranged in horizontal stacks in the bookshelves.

This flow of requirements does not accept that for many users the task of discovering and identifying books is not by systematically following this process. Instead, users browse, skim and walk around. Bookshops sometimes allow the discovery of books more easily. Why is this? Is this purely because booksellers have a profit motive? Is it because the principles of retail design require the inventory to be exposed for a consumer to possibly discover it?

It is surely one of these two as we doubt if this instinct to aid the discovery of books is outside the desire to enthuse and so to purchase. The marketplace surely does have any place for either curiosity or the pursuit of any depth – except in monetisable forms.

We are not dismissing the marketplace for this reason. We are only pointing out that the quality and context of engagement the project is talking about does not necessarily have a place in the market. We cannot expect the market to do everything – and that is a reason we have schools, libraries, hospitals, retreats, clinics and so many other kind of spaces in our society. Each kind of space performs another kind of function.

By using the library format and investing seeing more potential/possibility in it, we are rescuing an inherently difficult to use space and changing it to make it more user-friendly. By making libraries more user-friendly we are opening up the potential of our civilisational archives to those who are curious and desirous of learning but are not able to use them efficiently.

From the library we know today which has infinite potential but almost as inaccessible to the LibrariesInPlay project – these are still early days but we can imagine the library only more inclusive, more open and more explorative in the future!