In a recent essay on his CBC Radio show Sunday Edition, Michael Enright praises libraries and librarians at the end of the US celebration of National Library Week.
Celebrate is the correct verb. If knowledge has become a secular religion, public libraries are its parishes, mosques and synagogues.
This is probably why the many church conversions into libraries are so successful and impressive. The latest is the Library, Museum and Community Center ‘De Petrus’ in the Netherlands, designed by Molenaar&Bol&vanDillen Architects (and ed.- I didn't leave out the spaces, that is how they write it). A conversion of a church built in 1884, it is much more than just a library, but is "a multifunctional center containing a library and a museum but also a bar and shops."
Michael Enright noted that libraries have come to serve multiple roles.
Last November, I talked to John Pateman, the CEO of the Thunder Bay Public Library. He argued that libraries are about a lot more than books. They are community builders, shelters, outreach centres — in short, vital components of any social grouping sharing common goals and interests.
This library is even more than that. According to the architects, you can push on the bookshelves and transform the space completely.
The bookshelves are placed on a rail system so they can be moved to the aisles of the church. In this setting the church can be used for large events several times a year. Because of this the church floor can be used in a highly flexible way, providing room for events on all scales as well as functioning as a library.
The architects have inserted a curvaceous mezzanine that "gives the church a new look fitting for its new function." It holds meeting rooms and study areas as well as mechanical equipment. It is mostly over the side aisles, but does swoop in and out of the main space.
Michael Enright says of libraries and librarians: "Long may they flourish." A few years ago, talking about Merkx + Girod's renovation of a church into a bookstore in Maastricht, Geoff Manaugh thought that books and churches were going to suffer similar fates but fit well together- "both on the verge of extinction...come together to form a kind of last gasp for either entity.
It’s as if books, sensing that they are even now moving toward a curious state somewhere between resurrection and purgatory, have decided to retreat, repositioning themselves inside the stone vaults of a church – which happily welcomes these learned visitors – and there the books and the church embrace, like doomed friends all too aware of their age, biding their time together amidst the dust and sunlight until another renovation comes through.
That is why I am not convinced that the formality of the church should have been compromised with the curvy mezzanine, preferring the lighter touch approach that Merkx + Girod used where they pretty much left the building alone and just occupied it, so that in time it can serve many other functions. But then De Petrus is much more than just a library, it's already doing that.
More photos in ArchDaily, and see below for some of the other wonderful conversions and new libraries that we have shown: