What does your exterior say about you? Grabbing interest with some Street Art

July 27, 2011, 5:19 pm

The exterior of my library building is quite boring. Function triumphed form with each addition that was added over the years. My campus has some very intriguing architecture, but the library would be low on the list if there were an official ranking. Granted we’re attempting to change that very soon, but for now it is forgettable facade, despite being the tallest building on campus. I believe that this is common occurrence with many older buildings—we can all be envious of the newer structures that patrons find inspiring.

I was pondering this problem as I walked to a meeting across campus. What do each of the buildings say to me as I encounter them? What impression does the exterior of the library make on new students or visiting families? As they tour the campus or during the first week of the quarter when they are excited about classes and meeting new people – what is their conscious and subconscious impression of the library?

Obviously the space is probably much larger than what they had in high school. But forget about what’s inside— does the exterior make an impactful impression? Does it plant a seed of perception? If the building is appealing does it formulate a potential positive experience? Or if it’s drab and boring does that influence expectations of what they’ll find inside?

If a library looks old then do they assume it’s outdated with old technology and old forms information, whereas, if it’s modern and interesting does that make them more inclined to want to study there and use the services?

And what about recruitment? When I sit at tables for orientation and related events the questions parents ask are revealing. Ten years ago they asked how many books do you have? Three years ago they asked how many computers do you have? Last year they asked why do we still need libraries?

It’s a much different conversation when you are able to show a nice interior photo that allows parents and students to envision themselves using the library. If you have exciting space it could subconsciously influence enrollment. Is the same true about the exterior? Is the library a symbol of the campus? Does it instill confidence of an intellectual atmosphere? It’s the difference between “and here’s the library” vs. “and here’s the library, cool.”

So back to the story. I’m walking on campus and I’m wondering how we can make a splash with our building. It’s in the center of campus and has great visibility. I’d wager that nearly every student passes by it at least once a day. Can I turn the building into a billboard? Can I incite emotion? I don’t necessary want to promote services, but I want to try and build a brand idea.

Banksy popped into my head. Obviously his talents are not available, but what about another artist or a class?  I thought about the bathroom art project that we hosted last spring and called upon the student for ideas. I told her that I wanted to explore some type of artistic statement that would generate good word of mouth and make a positive intriguing impression on new students. I wanted her to help me give the library some personality.

The student’s name is Gabrielle Dimaranan and she is fantastic – her blog

Here are two of her ideas:

I love the use of elements from the periodic table to spell out library. I’m surprised I have not seen this before. Who knew that with a mixture of Lithium, Bromine, Argon, and Yttrium that you could have a LIBRARY?

She also imagines taking photos of a keyboard to spell out Davidson, the namesake of our building.


The second idea is a large colorful brain on the front sliding glass doors. In her words “this is meant to play upon the movement of the doors to signify the expanding of the mind.” Students would be entering an intellectual space by visiting the library. It builds upon the “portal of knowledge” concept. The doors would part, welcoming visitors into our domain. It’s a transformative statement.

I want to move on both of these ideas because they are exactly the type of impression that stands out. Will it result in a higher gate count? Maybe not, but in all likelihood they will raise awareness about the library and present us in a fun off-kilter unexpected way. In short, it will make us appear a little less boring and hopefully signals a welcoming attitude.

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