“Another important considerations to keep in mind is that furnishing a home or private office usually is for a five to ten year cycle. Personal tastes or needs changes and furnishings are replaced. For a library a twenty five to thirty year cycle will be coincident with the need to replace much of the furniture and is realistic because of the unlikelihood of obtaining funding for replacement any sooner than this time span. (Gerald McCabe PG 42)”
I start with this quote because I think many times I am looked at as just another sales representative. The truth is I feel I know more about library furniture than anyone man should and my father knows more than me. I joke but you are about to embark on an important task of purchasing furnishings for the next 25 to 30 years. Does it not make sense to know that what you are buying is going to last that long and why it will?
Over the weekend of June 28 to July 2, I had the pleasure of being at the American Library Association Conference in Chicago. While attending and speaking with many manufacturers, I had it proposed to me that there is no such thing as library furniture any more. I will admit that is probably a true statement. I cannot remember the last time I used an old style card catalog or an atlas on a stand or an old style dictionary. Like everything the function of todays library has changed. So what is there then? Well what separates, the TMCs, Agati, Palmieri and the rest from the office furniture manufacturers is library furniture engineering. Designing a piece of furniture that will last under abuse for the next 30 years. They know that you need metal to metal connections on your legs to keep the legs from falling off or getting loose over time. They know that a simple 1/8″ wood edgeband will not do so they build it up from smaller strips of wood to make a more solid edging. They know that people lean on chairs and have hidden metal frames on wooden chairs to reinforce the legs. Lastly they have been building furniture for many years to the standards as set forth by the ALA technology reports project. Over time techniques on how to meet these standards have changed but the importance of these basic specifications have not.
Why does today’s library furniture look different than that of even 10 years ago? Well the answer for that is simple. The A and D community had a different vision that a library is not a book warehouse but a community/technology center. To be honest the corporate world was ahead of the library world in how people worked and interacted and as such the office furniture manufacturers were ahead of the library furniture manufacturers. It took a little bit of time but manufacturers of library furniture have caught on and that is why you see many of them emulating the office furniture designs. DO NOT BE FOOLED!!! It is in looks only. Libraries if ever are such a small portion of a big office furniture manufacturers business that they are not making the engineering changes to create furniture that will last you the next 25 to 30 years. It is not profitable for them to do so. If they are lucky enough to catch a library so be it but you may be replacing your furniture in about 3 to 5 years under normal library abuse. If you have the knowledge that you will have the funds to do so in that time, I wish you best but most libraries as Mr. McCabe so clearly put it at the beginning do not.