Just across the street from Felipe’s on Mt. Auburn, floor-to-ceiling windows cluttered with a panchromatic mix of real and painted books mark the arrival of a new venue in The Square. Through the decals and tomes can be glimpsed an inflatable mylar cube, intended to help draw curious passersby inside to participate—or just partake—in what the Library Test Kitchen calls a "pop-up library."
"The Labrary," as the space is called, is a product of a seminar at the Harvard Graduate School of Design focused on exploring opportunities to redesign traditional libraries and learning settings.
The opening of The Labrary, the final product of the students’ work, took place Thursday night with talks from co-teacher Jeffrey Schnapp and senior associate provost for the Harvard Library Mary Lee Kennedy.
"We call it a Harvard library experiment," said Jeff Goldenson, a co-teacher of The Library Test Kitchen seminar. "The Harvard library is in transition and it’s changing a lot, so we wanted to set up a space where the students could say and show how it should be changing. And in the spirit of that we got this space to experiment with and see what a library could be," Goldenson said.
The Library Test Kitchen, now in its second year, is funded by The Harvard Innovation Lab. The seminar aims to serve not just as an engine of local change for Harvard’s 73 libraries, but as a model of innovation for libraries worldwide.
“This is just a perfect example of how students, librarians, and faculty are discovering this space together in this age and how we make integrating technology meaningful in terms of research and teaching,” said Kennedy at Thursday’s launch event. “I’m just thrilled to be even a small part of this.”
The Labrary features numerous student projects—typewriters, books with hidden speakers, and most noticeably, a billowing mylar den.
"It’s an inflatable reading room that can pop up anywhere around the Harvard community, and we wanted to get some kind of wow factor when people were passing by on the street," said Ben Brady, a co-instructor of The Library Test Kitchen.
According to Schnapp, The Labrary will have a very full events calendar, with events ranging from installations to "urban design poetry slam sessions."
"This project began with focused ambitions, but it has taken on a life of its own," said Schnapp. "This is a place for experimentation and fun, but serious fun—fun that involves thinking about the possibilities and both the challenges and opportunities that are involved in building a learning space and rethinking what a library is as an institution."
"We wanted it to be a workshop with people coming in and out," said Arielle Assouline-Lichten, a student at the Graduate School of Design currently taking The Library Test Kitchen seminar.
The Labrary will be open from 11 am to 7 pm Monday through Friday until December 21. It is open to all students and members of the community as a place to study, engage with student projects, hold meetings and events, or even as a spot to lie on a bean bag in between classes.