Creating Libraries And Bookshops From Abandoned Buildings

DISCLAIMER: This article was originally posted on Odyssey.


Of course, you definitely need a place that can afford that hope, and it can come in any form. What has always fascinated me was trying to learn how libraries are created, whether they are world-renowned or local.

The creation of a place with books could only be maintained by the people who consistently read them, including any famous authors who may have viewed a library or bookshop as an escape. This is what ensures people from many walks of life to congregate based on their love of literature. These waves of patrons would have to be there in order for the literature it contained to no longer be neglected. Oftentimes, the library itself can act as a depository for books abandoned either in the trash or deaccessioned by another library.

The books would be used again, just as much as the building that they are housed within. This is an especially crucial component within the creation since the library might be built in an abandoned building, such as a monastery of the Dominican order (in the case of the Boekhandel Dominicanen located in Maastricht, Netherlands). Since the buildings might be old, there would need to be restoration work to be done, such as enlarging the building, refurbishing the glass, and using computer numerical control (CNC) in order to mill new desks and shelves.

Sometimes, this library would be dedicated to someone important who may have loved literature. In the case of the Heiltsuk nation in British Columbia, there was an effort to preserve the personal library of their community leader named Thistalalh [tsis-tuh-luh]. His granddaughter established the library by petitioning for books from the local community, which immediately overflown with 1000 volumes of literature. Although the Thistalalh Memorial Library was damaged by a fire in 2013, it was clear that Thistalalh was well-beloved enough to preserve a library in his honor.

In the university from where I graduated, its library was previously a mansion owned by members of the Guggenheim family; and you could see it was owned by that family, with the elaborate, neoclassical architecture with fancy trappings such as white stucco and wide arcades of columns. Years after the Guggenheim couple who owned it passed away, the library was donated by the Guggenheim Foundation to Monmouth University. There is a profound sense of awe that can come when seeing the present meeting with the past. In this case, with computers and desks being juxtaposed with the chestnut and walnut paneling; or walking into a classroom and finding a wide panoramic mirror hanging above what used to be a faucet.

Of course, none of this implies that repurposed buildings make better libraries than buildings already established to contain book collections. To quote an article by the Guardian:

“Purpose-built bookshops can be every bit as beautiful as converted buildings.”

The importance that repurposed buildings do have is when they are no longer considered a waste of money and raw materials and are not left to rot. It is also important since it involves community-building, with the Thistalalh Memorial Library being the perfect example. It would restore the use of the buildings, but also the relevance that it has to the surrounding area; more specifically for the younger generation.

Anywhere in any building, a library can be established so long as it has the literal infrastructure to maintain the collection of books. Whether it was a bank, a theatre, or a monastery, what matters to every community is what purpose it will have when it does not fulfill it anymore. It is up to them to be able to reestablish those ties with those buildings by making them into libraries that can be enjoyed by entire generations.

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