Design for Baghdad’s New Mega-library

It’s being billed as the first public library to open in Baghdad in 30 years:

From the newly released design plan.

The plans were revealed earlier this month, and the designs from AMBS architects are utopically glittering, as are many of their other designs for the “Youth City” project.

I believe Saad Eskander, Director of the National Library of Iraq, who reportedly said: “It is imperative for the new Iraq to consolidate its young democracy and good governance through knowledge. New libraries have a notable role to play by promoting unconditional access to information, freedom of expression, cultural diversity, and transparency. By responding to the needs of Iraq’s next generations, the new library, we hope, will play an important role in the future of our country.”

Indeed: I think libraries are humanity’s great asset.

But outside of the “how will this get done?” and “why does everything have to look like a generic sci-fi-modern-city landscape?” questions, and general dread of anything that reminds me of ‘Cairo 2050‘, I’m suspicious of giant library showcase buildings that seem to come in lieu of smaller neighborhood institutions that are more accessible, friendly, and usable.

A post on an IREX “global libraries” blog from 2011 sums up the many of the problems with Egypt’s public libraries of recent years — a few giant, pretty institutions with decent funding — such as Biblioteca Alexandrina, the al-Ma3di library — that are largely cold and inaccessible (and in affluent areas), rather than a larger number of community libraries.

In Egypt, occasionally non-governmental organizations have stepped forward to create neighborhood libraries. Last year, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) launched an initiative to establish five public libraries in under-served neighborhoods. While they don’t look as pretty as the Biblioteca Alexandrina, they get inside neighborhoods and bring books to people.

Building on the new Baghdad library is apparently scheduled to start later this year.