Is a Building Just a Building?

Myrna Morales
Myrna Morales

This Forum Report was provided by Myrna Morales, Simmons College, a 2013 ARL/DLF Underrepresented Groups Fellow.

At one level, property can seem an inherently conservative legal institution, reflexively resistant to change, preserving as it does the realm of settled expectation. Change does come, generally incrementally, and perhaps often reluctantly.  But times of crisis often accelerate that change and spark unlikely reactions in return. Property in crisis raises the most fundamental questions about the nature of what it means to own, invest, transact and rely on property.*

Dr. Lankes delivered a thought-provoking keynote. While I agree with this blog post’s commentary on his use of “radical”, I wanted to focus more on the “people not institution” aspect of his talk. What he said was something I’ve been thinking about for a good minute—that it is not the building that makes the impact but the people in the building that make that impact. I understand that without people there is no movement, but I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend of mine with regards to property law. As someone who functions in this society without claim to any property in the strictest of sense, I find a need to reflect on this idea that space is secondary to what is done, because without space, can anything be done?

The funny thing is, had I heard Lankes when I was in library school, I probably would have been down with him. Right now, I am not sure.  I struggle with the concept that a building or space does little to help facilitate impact because every day I see people struggling for space. We only need to be reminded of the housing crisis in 2008 to truly appreciate the role of space in our society. We can even look to some of our colleagues who have been at the frontlines of the battle to ensure that the library’s space is not occupied by another corporate entity. I saw this at a DLF session that I attended where information caretakers were brainstorming and talking hard about how to prove that their collection provided value for their stakeholders. They were in essence fighting for space, virtual space.

But highlighted in Dr. Lankes talk and Char Booth’s talk is the hope and evidence that we are very much rethinking our relationship to property. Char Booth highlights creative ways where we can respond and are responding to libraries in crisis. And not just creative ways, but thoughtful ways that have us questioning and reflecting on our privileges in these institutional spaces, and how we inherit these spaces. There’s a reality that I’ve come to grips with as I write this—space can exist without us. We can not exist without space.

* Nestor M. Davidson and Rashmi Dyal-Chand,Property in Crisis, 78 Fordham L. Rev. 1607 (2010). Available at:

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DLF Digest: June 2024

A monthly round-up of news, upcoming working group meetings and events, and CLIR program updates from the Digital Library Federation. See all past Digests here. 

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