I spoke last Friday at Numérique et bibliothèques : le deuxième choc a conference at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, at Le site François-Mitterrand. Earlier in the week I attended a meeting about the proposed UK Research Reserve at the British Library, at St Pancras. The UKRR is a collaborative higher eduction storage project looking to creating a national resource which reduces redundant costs at individual libraries while assuring long term access.
It was interesting visiting these two buildings in quick succession. Each generated major national, and international, discussion as they were being built and in their early lives as working libraries. A discussion about architecture and civic space, about the role of public institutions, and about the place of a national library in public life. And, of course, each generated discussion about how a library building should support the modern needs of its users.
I travelled between London and Paris on the Eurostar, through the Channel Tunnel. Next year, the UK terminus of this service will reach St Pancras, beside the British Library building. This is from a piece I wrote a few years back as a contribution to a volume on digital library initiatives at the British Library:
At the same time, the British Library has been involved in the construction of one of the most significant library `places' the world will have seen, a building in which the main objective is to "create an easy commerce between the lone scholar and the huge building mass required to house the collections, all the fellow (rival?) researchers and the general public ...". It is an enterprise emphatically set against the `withering of experience': the architect, Colin St John Wilson, discusses scale, how to accommodate the demands for personal space with flow, of daylight as a source of ambient light, and closes by describing the "difficult to define `body language' that responds to the invitation to touch (the travertine barrier, the leather handrail, the oak-ribbed carapace of the column) ...". He hopes that the arrival in nearby St Pancras of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will make the court yard a social assembly place, the clock tower a rendezvous point. St. John Wilson acknowledges the influence of Alvar Aalto - himself a creator of libraries - and endorses Aalto's view that a building should be judged not on the day of its opening but after thirty years of use. [library places and digital information spaces: reflections on emerging network services]The event at the Bibliothèque nationale de France marked ten years since the opening of the building there.
In the picture: our children, Eavan and Eoghan, outside the British Library in Summer 2005.