A Day in the Life of Branch Libraries

Earlier this week, we announced a new design study on branch libraries in New York City. The project is a collaboration between The Architectural League and the Center for an Urban Future (CUF), and it builds on CUF’s comprehensive research into how branch libraries are serving more people in more ways than ever before, yet remain undervalued by policymakers. Over the course of the design study, leading up to a public presentation of design ideas this fall, we will periodically be releasing content that explores different aspects of libraries’ history, architecture, and program offerings in order to demonstrate the crucial role they play in community life in New York City. First up: a moving video, by Julie Dressner and Tyler Hicks, that chronicles the range of services branch libraries provide — from literacy, language, and job skills training to book delivery for homebound seniors — framed as a day in the life of branch libraries across the city.

The video offers a powerful case for why libraries need additional resources to extend opening hours. The funding shortfall limits libraries’ effectiveness in other ways as well: urgent maintenance needs are often deferred, renovations are rarely funded adequately, and available space is insufficient to meet the demand for access to everything the library makes possible. As public budgets continue to be constrained, addressing these challenges will benefit from fresh thinking from architects, designers, planners, real estate developers, and librarians. We’re looking forward to working with a group of interdisciplinary teams to generate the new ideas required and to sharing with you the complexity of the issues involved, including capital budget allocation rules, the promises and pitfalls of new technologies, and the shifting culture of learning. But first, take a look at how these vital public institutions are experienced on the ground.

Cassim Shepard served as the founding editor of Urban Omnibus from its inception to 2014.