Saturday, July 19, 2008

Travel Destinations for Library Geeks: Philological Library, Free University of Berlin

What library nerd isn't going to swoon over a library designed to be shaped like a brain? Honestly, I was skeptical when I first visited the Philological Library in the southwestern corner of Berlin, Germany. I've seen too many architectural feats of design that were beautiful but entirely impractical for the reality of shelving books and accommodating patrons. But in this case I was pleasantly surprised by the success of form and function.

With the stacks resembling the lobes and the folds and the stem consisting of the central staircase, this language and philosophy library in the student union of the Free University, Berlin is a great example of modern architecture working as a modern library. The whole building is a solid investment in design, from the environmentally friendly heating/cooling to the passive lighting, from the staffing to the study areas. Despite the artistic bent of designing the building to look like a brain, the function of the library was clearly weighted equally in the design process. The whole library can be run in the evenings by one or two staff members. The bright (and warmer) upper levels offer a variety of study space, while the interiors of the lower levels house the books.

The attention to detail in the design and execution is carried out on the digital side of the equation as well. Searching the catalog yields your standard lists of books and resources, but also offers the user a floor plan of the library with the location of the book clearly marked. This sounds like an obvious innovation for an online library catalog, but has been terribly slow in being implemented in most libraries.

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