I recently started reading an e-book by Leo Babauta author of the Zen Habits blog called focus: a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction. It reads very similar to a blog and is very practical in it’s message. At it’s heart, it’s a “how to” book on separating the processes of consumption and creation. It’s about focus and not trying to multi-task or do everything at once.
I want take this idea one step further and in addition to consumption and creation, I also want to add contemplation. Contemplation is another mind process similar to creation and consumption, but also quite distinct and important to the other two. Thinking within the framework of these different mind processes can be helpful in libraries, whether you’re thinking about serving patrons or examining your own work habits.
Babauta contends that we should be doing these things at different times, thus maintaining concentration and focus. I agree, but I also think having different environments for different processes is also very conducive to focus. I believe that libraries as spaces can facilitate these different processes by creating separate areas dedicated to each process.
This is what libraries traditionally did. They provided books and other resources and space to consume them. What would a consumption area look like? It could be a chair to read or a room for viewing movies. It could be a pod chair with headphones next to the music section. It could be a computer area where people go on Facebook, or read articles. In fact, most of the library can be used as a space for consumption. We are constantly consuming all the time. The other two are more difficult but also where libraries can perhaps add increased value.
Libraries are places where creation can happen. Traditionally people pulled together research in the library at places like tables and study carrels and produced written works of scholarship. Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of a UCLA library on a pay typewriter. These opportunities still exist today. We offer computers to create documents or other digital media. But increasingly libraries are offering other creation spaces. Some libraries offer digital video or sound editing rooms. We recently installed LCDs in our study rooms so students could create projects or presentations collaboratively. Libraries today can offer spaces to both text and hypertext, analog and digital.
There seems to be less attention paid to contemplation in our fast paced digital world. Normally we are only focused on input and output. What can we consume and what can we create? But contemplation gives strength to the other two. It allows people to make personal meaning of what they take in (I recommend you read Hamlet’s Blackberry) and prepare to create new original works. Libraries today are becoming fairly fast paced places and we’re trying to get over our unfortunate image of shushers. But I contend that we still need some shushing or at least create spaces for our users where they can go to contemplate and reflect in quiet. In our library we have quiet study rooms and a few fairly quiet nooks. Libraries are one of the few places that people should be able to get away from the rush of the world and find some place to think and be alone with their thoughts. I believe that is a value we should retain as we’re moving forward.
Separating these mental processes in both time and space can be helpful for concentration and focus. Thinking about these processes when designing libraries or creating spaces can be informative of their purpose and function.