Creative space in the plural North

At 57° N, the University of Aberdeen can lay claim to being the most northerly of our RLG Partner institutions. Perhaps it is suitable, therefore, that the new library which is soon to be built there looks like a melting ice cube.

Sarah Thomas, University Librarian at Oxford (51° N) gave a presentation on its new building developments to the Friends of St Andrews University Library (56° N) recently, with the engaging title Creative Space or Creating Space? Planning tomorrow’s library today. This led me back to view the fascinating fly-through of Aberdeen’s new building, with a commentary by University Librarian Chris Banks. What makes this library resonate particularly for us is the new pride of place being given in the concept and design to special collections. This will be a library whose emphasis on uncovering its uniqueness will be pioneering.

The University Principal, Duncan Rice, spent several years as Vice Chancellor of New York University (40° N), where his role in the rapid financial expansion and development of that institution was significant. His supervision of the library project at Aberdeen has also been important to the university’s success in creating what will be the first new university library to be built in the UK for several years. Professor Rice is from Aberdeen and has a vision for the university and the city which is well represented by the description of a guest lecture given at the Scottish Parliament a few years ago:

Scotland can use its position and identity as a plural society of the North to recover some of the confidence and influence it once exerted in the Scottish Enlightenment.

His interest in this subject is revealed in the website about the new library building itself:

A glittering building with resonances of the North. An inviting, finely-landscaped public square, drawing the visitor in to a spacious, light and airy ground-floor plaza, with luminous views up through the open atrium, and connecting the lively public spaces of the café, exhibition and event area with the monumental foundation of our historical collections below and the flexible, functional, bookstacks and study areas of the floors above. Views over the chapel tower, the city and the coastline, will connect the library with the community it serves.

For Aberdeen, creating tomorrow’s library today means giving pride of place to what must not be lost from yesterday.

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