Labrary Tests Innovative Approaches to Learning

Ever wanted to study in a personal zip-up capsule or publish a literary mix-tape? “Dunce Capsule” and “Recon-Texts” are just two of the latest additions to LABRARY, a showcase space that features a variety of innovative installations aimed at reshaping conceptions of what the traditional library looks and feels like.

LABRARY, which opened last month, was created by students and faculty from the Harvard Graduate School of Design with funding from the Harvard College Library and the Harvard Library Innovation Lab. The most recent addition to the space is a set of works produced by students in the GSD course ADV-09125: “Library Test Kitchen.”

“This project is about exploring technology and space, and about looking at libraries from a very broad point of view,” said Jeff Goldenson, a designer at the Library Innovation Lab and one of the course instructors. “Students took charge of the creation of LABRARY completely—they designed the façade and made the branding.”

One of the new additions to the space is a pair of reading tables with a set of speakers embedded into the surface. Users are not allowed to interact with the speakers, whose only role is to emit background noise at a constant volume.

The designer, master of architecture candidate Hattie Stroud, described the concept behind the table’s creation in a press release.

“I do my best studying while in a lecture for another class because I can actively ignore the lecturer and focus on the task at hand,” Stroud wrote. “These lecturing Topical Tables provide a study space of slight distraction, similar to the background murmur of a lecture hall.”

Another installation, entitled BOOKFACE, features a photo booth that allows LABRARY visitors to pose on a murder mystery set with a Macbook covering their faces—a comment on the changing face of the library as more of its content enters the cyberspace.

“[BOOKFACE] is an online photo opera that invites visitors to reflect on their relationship with the digital,” said Nicolas Rivard, the project’s designer and a GSD graduate. “My project is very much a reflection upon the things that we sacrifice in the process [of digitization].”

Rivard’s creation, and others like it, are especially relevant in light of Harvard’s ongoing efforts to make its own collections publicly available online.

“We are not trying to prescribe what the future of our libraries should be,” Goldenson said. “We do believe in books and tradition—but as library content gets digital, we ask, what could the space of the library potentially mold into?”

Obtaining the space to showcase the projects publicly was “serendipitous,” according to Teaching Fellow and GSD graduate Jessica Yurkofsky.

“The course will be repeated next fall,” Yurkofsky said, “and I would really like to see something like this set up again.”

Goldenson said that opening the space to the public would provide a valuable learning opportunity for students.

“Anyone can come here to meet or study. Getting feedback from the world beyond of the classroom is a fantastic opportunity,” he said. “It forces you to be very clear with what you are doing.”

LABRARY will remain open to the public on 92 Mount Auburn Street through December 21.

—Staff writer Antonio Coppola can be reached at acoppola@college.harvard.edu.

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