Merriam-Webster's dictionary define's estrange as to cause someone to be no longer involved or connected with something. Entering the newly renovated Nanaimo Harbourfront Library, this is what immediately comes to mind. Not inclusion. Not engagement.
Cold, empty spaces. Modern minimalist décor. Words on walls. Empty chairs. It doesn't feel like a warm, busy, book-focused place that a library ought to be.
Did anyone involved in the design of this million dollar renovation ask ordinary people what they thought, or what they wanted? The library was closed for seven months for this. It seems to me it was designed by elites who didn't really want people or books to clutter the space. Was the overriding objective to chase out homeless loiterers, or better monitor them?
The following pictures were taken on a cold wintry Saturday afternoon when the library should be crowded and busy, and used to be crowded and busy.
Home - Project for Public Spaces
Councillor Brennan likes it, as she was quoted in the Nanaimo News Bulletin
“I'm impressed, there's just so much light in there. There's huge floor-to-ceiling windows that we, as library users, never saw before because there was the shelving and other things that were placed in front of it, so it's really beautiful,”
It would be interesting to ask ordinary Nanaimoites what they think. Former Nanaimo bookstore owner and librarian Thora Howell is not impressed. In a recent news story she is quoted observing: "That library doesn't reflect anything of this community, it just doesn't."
I am reminded of the modern trend towards public spaces that eschews places to sit. Diana Krall plaza is one such place.
The rebuttal to much of this is that the world is moving to a digital realm, paperless books, reading online and from home. People are cocooning. But then what happens to the physical community? It is important to retain and encourage this.
This website makes an interesting read about how the design of public spaces can encourage community and democracy or stifle it.
What is especially odd is how different this revamped library is from the newly constructed North Nanaimo branch.
The library provides small notes on which patrons can write their feedback. I would be curious to see this feedback. Also, it would be interesting to see the data on how many people are visiting the library since it re-opened. Now of course this data will be skewed by the North Nanaimo branch opening, but there ought to be a way to determine an optimal number. I suspect that after six months, it will be far less than the old library and far from optimal.
When I go to a restaurant, at the end I know whether the experience makes me want to come back again or not. Unfortunately, more often than not it is the latter. It has a lot to do with a feeling. The renovated library in my view and the view of many other former patrons is that this new feeling is not positive.