Is the architect the natural enemy of the librarian? A conversation about the impact of design on how archival research is conducted and disseminated.
“The architect is the natural enemy of the librarian.” So vented William Frederick Poole of the Chicago Historical Society in an 1881 paper, which complains that the priority given to aesthetic concerns in library design often frustrates the efforts of researchers and custodians of books (those who actually use the building). Nowhere would this tension seem more pronounced that in Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at New York University. When Philip Johnson’s towering red sandstone structure on Washington Square Park opened in 1973, many critics predicted that its form was certain to hamper its function. The building’s defining feature is also its most maligned: an internal atrium that has inspired awe, terror, and, most often, bewilderment at such an apparent waste of space in an urban temple of knowledge.
Marvin J. Taylor directs the Fales Library & Special Collections at Bobst, where he has built the Downtown Collection. In this presentation, Taylor weaves together nuanced personal reflections on the building where he has worked for twenty-three years and a history of tensions between architects and librarians. What’s at stake in this conflict is ultimately the very production of knowledge, inasmuch as the physical configurations of libraries shape how research is conducted, accessed, and disseminated. Taylor’s interlocutor is artist Andrea Geyer, who frequently conducts research in the building as part of her practice. Her photographs of Bobst reveal a space where dramatic sightlines and small architectural details hold the potential to link isolated researchers into a hive of collective activity.
Memory Drives is part of Triple Canopy’s Vanitas issue, which explores contemporary meditations on mortality as well as the delights, delusions, and pressures of fleshly existence.
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Triple Canopy’s venue is located at 264 Canal Street, 3W, near several Canal Street subway stations. Our floor is accessible by elevator (63" × 60" car, 31" door) and stairway. Due to the age and other characteristics of the building, our bathrooms are not ADA-accessible, though several such bathrooms are located nearby. If you have specific questions about access, please write at least three days before the event and we will make every effort to accommodate you.
- Marvin J. Taylor is director of the Fales Library and Special Collections at New York University where he founded the Downtown New York Collection in 1994. Taylor holds a BA in comparative literature and an MLS in librarianship from Indiana University and an MA in English from New York University. He has held positions at the Lilly Library, Indiana University; the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University; and the Health Sciences Library, Columbia University. Taylor’s research interests include experimental art, music, performance, and literature; gender politics; archival theory; masculinities; and queer theory.
- Andrea Geyer is an artist living and working in New York.