The Engaged User; Architects and Books / Barbara Opar

Architects love books. I think most of you will agree with this statement. We have all been in faculty offices or the homes of working professionals and seen the piles of printed material open to select pages. If you have not encountered this, just check out the images in Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books (New Haven: Yale University Press in association with Urban Center Books, 2009) As Jo Steffens, the editor of this work, says: …it affirms the importance of books in our lives. As you browse the books shown in these pages, a familiar title will spark recognition; an idea or a conversation may be recalled.” (preface, vii-viii). Architects seem to share this view. That is certainly the case at my institution’s architecture school.

Because the very nature of a blog allows for personal reflection, I would like to make some observations about books and architects. Of course, artists and art historians are known to be book lovers, but architecture is the area I inhabit, and want to offer reflections on it. Beyond personal examples of conversations centering on books at receptions, new book displays actively perused, frequent recall requests, the architect—be it student or faculty member –appears to value books in a different way than those in other disciplines.

As an academic librarian, I have collection building responsibility for three different disciplines. I have served as the architecture librarian at Syracuse University for close to forty years (scary!). Despite that fact, this is the group which makes significant new book requests. I have no reason to feel that there are any trust issues. I think it is because they are engaged users. They turn to books for verification of information; for inspiration and just to keep up with the myriad publications on the market. I have actually not seen a decline in overall engagement with the architecture book. Of course, there have been high points and lows over the years. While students may find it easier to “google” a project, when it comes to a serious consideration of a topic they still turn to the printed word. They are certainly encouraged to do so by faculty. Some faculty have specific books set aside for students. Others bring classes to see the materials on a topic or teach a class using sets like El Croquis.

In the past several years, despite the proliferation of other sources of information, interest in the book especially among faculty has actually increased. Campus delivery services certainly help. To date, over this past fiscal year I have had 160 different faculty requests for new book purchases; many of these for more than one title. This represents requests from 32 out of 44 faculty members. Most of the faculty, but not all, are full-time and continuing appointments. While long-term tenured faculty continue to make requests, quite a number of requests come from newer faculty. Requests from our visiting critics vary from year to year. Those who have taught before –even elsewhere- tend to make more requests, often for reserve. Of course there is also a correlation to new courses being taught or research for publication. A long term faculty member has made more requests over the past year than he made to date over the course of his appointment here. This, of course, is because he is now engaged in a writing project. Most requests are directly or indirectly related to teaching. Some requests represent books coming on approval or already selected, but not all. By and far, the books are on some aspect of architecture- an architect, a time period, a geographical area or a topic like sustainability or urban design. But titles related to art historical topics, philosophy, social issues and elements of technology (wind effects on tall buildings; tensile structures; infrastructure) come across my desk as well. Historians are steady borrowers and requestors, followed by theorists. But design faculty certainly make frequent use of the collection, often requesting titles of a topical nature- spatial agency, composite drawing, digital design, EFTE foil, landscape urbanism—to name a few.

Such engagement is gratifying and has enabled me to request additional funds for collections. But more than that it leads me to believe that the next generation of students will continue to refer to the printed word and see value in presentation on paper.

Is my situation unique? Let me know by completing this brief survey which will be open through May 15, 2015……I will be happy to share the results in the future blog entry.

SEE Survey :

–Barbara Opar (

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