Re-envisioning Branch Libraries

Branch libraries are serving more New Yorkers in more ways than ever before, yet they remain undervalued by policymakers. This year, The Architectural League is collaborating with the Center for an Urban Future on a design study that will articulate new architectural, financial, and programmatic possibilities for these essential, neighborhood-based resource centers.

The study will identify the challenges that branch libraries face and propose design solutions to stimulate conversation about means to support New York’s three library systems and the vital services they provide. These challenges include promoting access to expanding resources of the digital world while continuing to circulate books and other print resources; accommodating the full range of library programs, from adult literacy and ESL to after-school programs for children and teens and technology training for senior citizens; and enhancing libraries’ capacity to serve as physical and civic hubs of their communities.

The design study is in conjunction with and a complement to the Center for an Urban Future’s ongoing research on branch libraries in New York City, including their January 2013 report, Branches of Opportunity, on the libraries’ increasingly critical role in the city’s human capital system, and their September 2014 report, Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries, on libraries’ capital needs and recommendations for how to bring these vital community institutions into the 21st century. (For more information visit the CUF website).

The Architectural League invited architects and designers interested in participating in this design study to organize interdisciplinary teams and to submit qualifications and a statement of interest in response to a Request for Qualifications. A selection committee, which included Seema Agnani, Chhaya Community Development Corporation; Sarah Goldhagen, The New Republic; Shannon Mattern, The New School; Henry Myerberg, HMA2; Lyn Rice, Rice+Lipka Architects; and members of The Architectural League and Center for an Urban Future project teams, selected five teams from forty-five submissions.

In the coming months, The Architectural League will periodically release content here on and our online publication Urban Omnibus, collected below, that explores different aspects of branch libraries, touching on the diverse architectural forms of this public building type as well as chronicling the array of resources and services branch libraries make available.

The design study will culminate with a public event this fall, featuring a presentation of the participants’ work and discussion with advocates and policymakers around issues drawn from the study.

Published: July 14, 2014. Updates ongoing.