When I began researching physical library and information spaces, I came with my own assumptions about space. I thought of the practicalities of space – size, heat, light, age, budgetary concerns – as limitations on the vast, wonderful possibilities inherent in library space. A library, I thought, could be anything.
Then I approached the question: What have people imagined libraries can be?
I looked at Harry Potter, the school library with its stained glass windows and oak panelling; Beauty and the Beast, with its marbled floors and glittering, endless walls of books; The Mummy with its darkness and dusty old books; The Pagemaster, where worlds are tucked inside books, and Pratchett’s L-space, where the library goes on forever and ever, ook.
About two years ago I visited to the Maggie’s Centre in West London. I went in with my library hat on, with leaflets to explain information services we had on offer for NHS staff. (Protip: librarians love leaflets.) I walked in to the centre – which looked, from the outside, like an orange box – and was honestly blown away.
I know hospital spaces. I’ve visited family members: snuck in tupperware boxes of sabzi and roti, dhal and kichadi and sat with them as they ate it cold in a room with six other people and the steady beep of machinery humming in the background. I’ve seen those sad, sterile hospital corridors that someone has desperately tried to spruce up by hanging up some kitsch art – usually something involving flowers, or horses, or landscapes with pointedly cheerful trees. I’ve worked in hospitals too: sorted through patient files and stacks of dust in clumsily organised lightless rooms of records; chased down doctors to hand over messages in spotless wards that were unfortunately near the kitchen, and therefore smelled like old ham. Hospitals are generally practical, utilitarian, and underfunded, with too little leftover energy or time to invest in appearance. Continue reading