The Functions Of Contemporary Library

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The term library was derived from the Latin word “liber” which means a book. In the pre-industrial era, books were seen as prized possessions; Items which could be seen and accessed only by the select few. Later with the invention of the printing press and information explosion, special places were created to house these possessions. These initial public libraries were built with the sole purpose of collection of printed material and the users could access the data and seat within the range of the material. This concept has been evolving overtime with the changing culture and society and now, with the advent of the digital age, the library has been reinterpreted and strengthened. They are no longer seen as a mere depository of books and magazines. The modern library has become a platform for research and experimentation, a quiet retreat for learning, contemplation and reflection. They have become places for community growth and development.


The contemporary library emerged as a third place; a place between work and home. It was loaded with more attractions to make it a lively community space. The various programmatic changes are explained with reference to OLD AND NEW AGE LIBRARIES.


In the traditional libraries, there is a main central arrival space which is usually well-lit and voluminous to humble the users. This space would have a circulation desk which would control the issue and return of books and would also regulate the users as seen in the case of the Baroda Central library and the MJ library. In the Baroda library, a few stacks are placed in this area which are hardly ever accessed. Thus, the entry is seen as a very formal space.

The arrival space of Baroda Central library Plan showing the formal arrival space of MJ library(Source: Retrieved from MJ library archives) This space would transition into a larger space dedicated for the mass collection of the stacks. There would be small openings meant for just enough light as the books had to be protected. This space was superimposed with the reading spaces at intervals as seen in the case of the Baroda Central Library. In this case, as the collection would grow, the reading space would be encroached. Here reading is seen as an activity which happens by the stacks.

Reading space between stacks Whereas in the contemporary libraries, like the Seattle central library and Sendai Mediathique, the arrival would show the essence and spirit of the space and would mostly be a multipurpose public community space with a small reception. Here the focus is to show the user the richness and diversity of the library.

The levels closer to the ground would be full of public activities like plazas, cafeterias, discussionrooms, store etc. The reading rooms, seminar rooms and stacks went up. There are now separate dedicated reading spaces which favoured both quiet contemplations and group discussions. For example, the Philips Exeter library; It creates niches for quiet reading and creates large spaces for discussion. In most libraries like the Sendai Mediathique and Stuttgart library, the reading spaces would overlook the stacks or be spiralled around it.

For storing the books, new concepts of spiral and square stacks were introduced for easier navigation as seen in Seattle Central library and Stuttgart library. The continuous spiral system had better organisation and more opportunity to grow. The idea of compartmentalized flexibility over uniform flexibility.


A grand Living room for the city, Cafeteria and roof terrace, mixing chamber where there is information exchange and access to computers and digital information, Special children’s library. Similarly, Sendai Mediathique has open plazas, book stores and multipurpose halls with seminar rooms, auditoriums and discussion spaces. Even lectures and film screenings can be held in the library in the AV rooms. Everybody can find their use and thus libraries increase in scale and become community hubs in the city.

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The traditional libraries are grand structures with classical status. They are revered buildings which was more about façade making and appearances. They served as icons for the city’s architecture. The entry spaces were grand and were raised to mark importance as seen in Asiatic society library.

Thus, these libraries would not seem as inviting and welcoming to all and people would go to these libraries with a specific purpose and for a few hours. The libraries today are anchor points for the city public as they support a wide array of events and functions. Now comfortable and inviting libraries are created which users can easily engage with.

There is no grandeur and the functions dictate the form. They are platforms for people from all backgrounds to come together. People come for an entire day and indulge in various activities. The library is now a community hub for the city and is as important as the cinemas or malls.


With the advent of digital media, the traditional libraries are reinterpreted like in the Seattle central library. They give equal importance to books and media. With the advancing technology, books are monitored. This enables free circulation on the ground with multiple entries. The ground can be used for multiple activities as no regulation is required. No cues as there are multiple distribution points and issue points.

In the case of university and college libraries, the demand for services and technological access to information acts as a catalyst to make the library a place where all students head to for serious work as the library is the only centralized location where information technologies can be combined with traditional printed resources in a user-oriented and socially rich environment. Within the institution, the library becomes a dynamic learning space.


Future needs at Seattle Central library are met by continuing to reconfigure the spaces within the library building itself and not by leaving some area for future expansion like in the Baroda Central library.

The traditional libraries were mass based structures with spaces designed to serves specific functions. They had few openings for light to create ideal environment for books and not to provide experience to the user. In the case of Baroda library, a thick enclosure with long vertical openings creates the large collection space. The stacks are also structural and are hence fixed in their place and the books keep piling on and hence some stacks are added in the arrival space.

The contemporary libraries are designed to adapt, change and grow. They are all lightweight structure mostly made of steel for added transparency. Large clear spaces are made which create a community and connect the people with the outside and create experiences. There are also no physical partitions. The Light shaft of the Sendai Mediathique is structural and used for services and creates a forest like feel inside. It is wrapped by a thin steel and glass membrane. Here steel is used as an expression to create an experience of the lightness of the space and canopy.


Thus, in the contemporary libraries, knowledge is accessible in all forms and media. The various functions are interspersed with informal spaces where fraternity could gather and exchange ideas. It is a social program which accentuates all the attractions of the public and reading spaces. The environment promotes collective learning and is yet cognizant of the different human natures. It addresses the characters of different individuals through a multitude of spaces.

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The Functions Of Contemporary Library. (2021, September 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
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