Delightful, Unconventional Library Spaces
Libraries can be beautiful spaces to visit, read, explore, and have some peace of mind. They are usually designed with the patron in mind with many libraries implementing specific design features that make spaces welcoming and accessible.
The list is endless when it comes to exploring thoughtfully built library spaces. There are plenty of well-known libraries all around the world featuring classic architecture from ancient times or futuristic, sleek floor plans for the modern-day reader.
There is also another type of library that exists and that is one created from the most unexpected places.
There are innovative thinkers and supporters of public libraries that transform old buildings or unconventional objects into a public library for the community to use. There’s a lot to explore when it comes to these library spaces and plenty of interesting backstories to dive into.
A common way that unconventional libraries come into fruition is from older buildings that are restored or rebuilt into a library space. These libraries can have some of the most interesting past lives and oftentimes, these are the libraries that are making a bigger impact on communities than we realize.
Old stores are one of the recurring themes when it comes to library spaces. There’s been quite a number of fun stories that have popped up across the country. In McAllen, Texas, for example, a new library was created from an abandoned Walmart. The library was able to move into this space after the store decided to close down and move to a larger location. With that, architects were able to play with the 124,000 square foot space and turn it into brand new space with lounge rooms, giant service areas, and colorful entryways. The once abandoned store is now the largest single story library in the country. The Eden Prairie Public Library in Minnesota came about in a similar fashion, with a large supermarket exiting the scene to allow for a modern library facility to enter. With just a few renovations, the library was able to create natural lighting, intimate research areas, and comfortable reading spaces.
The Nassau Public Library in the Bahamas has a long history to its founding. Originally created as a correctional workhouse, this building had cells, dungeons, and multiple floors. It was converted into a public library when a new prison was built and the environment turned from chaos to tranquility. Today, it is still one of the oldest historic buildings in the Bahamas.
A Library Made of Things
Libraries of things are becoming more common throughout the world, giving patrons the ability to borrow lots of necessities beyond books like household tools, bikes, or board games. A library made of things is an entirely different story but we’ve started to see them created from all types of materials. One example of this is the Hot-Spot Library in Cape Town created from a couple of donated shipping containers and milk crate bookshelves. The idea came about when founder, Terence Crowster, wanted to create a culture of reading for children in the area which is frequently plagued with crime. While the library sits at the border of gang territories, everyone knows it is off-limits. This safe haven has become a hit around town and they are in the works to open up a second location.
The smallest library in all of Britain can be found in an old telephone booth. Located in Westbury-sub-Mendip, this tiny library was a solution to villagers who were afraid of losing both the town library and their red phone box. Now it serves as a home to donated books and is accessible to residents of the town 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An American version of this phone booth library can be found in a New York City payphone booth.
It’s not just shipping containers and phone booths that have received all the attention. People have also converted unused barns like the Jackson Public Library in New Hampshire which was able to save an old barn or this personal library collection created from a former cowshed in Dorset, UK. In Chile, you can even find library buildings created from a line of old train cars that are no longer in commission.
Unconventional Spaces Turned Community Centers
There is no doubt that the story behind each unconventional library space has a happy ending. Along with new furniture, colorful murals, or redesigned spaces, these libraries have been able to play an important role in the communities they serve. In some cases, this means saving something from being torn down and in others, this means creating safe spaces for community members to discover and learn. Newly designed libraries definitely have their perks but don’t overlook the specialness of a library that’s been revamped from the most unexpected spaces.