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Library Spaces For Consumption, Creation, And Contemplation

lcd screen

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.

Consumption

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.

Creation

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.

Contemplation

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.

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Old media vs. new media

photo by a.drian on flickr

photo by a.drian on flickr

I was just thinking how much I enjoy letter writing. I stay in touch with a couple friends from college in this way and it is probably one of my favorite forms of communication.

I hate talking on the phone and don’t often feel comfortable doing it. I need to use my facial expressions when I’m talking. I also despise email, because most of it is so worthless (though I do get a feeling of accomplishment when I send off a really well crafted email). Texting and especially communicating via Facebook or Twitter are much more my style. Perhaps because it feels more genuine.

But letter writing is still my favorite. It takes a lot longer than any other form of communication, but longer can be better. It forces you to think about your life and what has been going on in it. It forces you to think about your friend and their life and how they’ll respond to your letter. It is by far the most contemplative medium of communication, and that, I think, is why I enjoy it so much.

I am constantly sending off emails or tweeting, but when I get the chance to actually sit down and create a story of my life, my thoughts, and my interests in relation to a friend, it’s much more personal than updating my Facebook profile. Receiving a letter in the mail is a joy and much more rewarding than checking someones most recent tweet.

The same can be said of other forms of media, such as books in comparison to blog posts. Books force one to slow down and be more contemplative. I appreciate all this new social media that is now ubiquitous, but I feel at times that something is missing. It’s at these times that I slow down and do something introspective: write a letter, read a book, journal, meditate.

Do other people do this anymore, or is it dying?