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The Building of Libraries

Until the end of the 19th century, and often even longer, libraries in the Czech Lands were simply a part of buildings meant for other use, whether they were libraries of monasteries, chateaux, public schools, or associations. For the territory now called the Czech Republic, the history of purpose-built libraries begins in 1891 and is connected to German-born Osvald Ottendorfer of Svitavy, Moravia, who dedicated his German renaissance style library to the town. At the time of its opening, it was the largest and most modern German library in Moravia.

Within one year during the 1920s, the capital city, Prague, gained two new buildings which were to be used as public libraries. In 1928, architect František Roith designed the City Library, which experts considered to be one of the best European libraries. In 1929, a new building was opened in Královské Vinohrady that was to serve as a branch of the City Library. Also completed in Prague in that year was the extensive reconstruction of the baroque Jesuit College Klementinum, which then served what at that time was the National and University Library. This was the last of the construction boom in the Czech lands for some time. It was not until after a long interval taking an unbelievable 55 years that in 1985 a new library was opened in a building of its own - the regional library in Most. The whole city, including the original library facilities, had to make way for coal mining. During the communist era, there were several modern housing estate libraries that cropped up in Prague and Brno which were placed within the facilities of cultural and community centres.

The situation of this unfavourable period is evidenced from a 1988 study in which 707 important libraries took part. It states that public libraries in that period used only 29.14% of the space allocated to them according to technical and economic indicators. Most libraries were housed in multi-purpose buildings which were only later modified to suit the needs of a library. Library operations were often dispersed into several buildings and space constrictions forced 353 libraries (i.e. 50%) to build separate depositories.
After 1989, a phase of reconstruction and construction of new buildings for libraries of the most various types began. Libraries significantly expanded their facilities and improved services for their readers. Renovations took place in 75 libraries and the improved conditions and new premises have attracted 50-150% more readers. Here are some examples of successful projects:

  • In 1992-1995, a central depository for the Czech National Library was built that could store 4 million volumes. The building also has restoration workshops and laboratories.
  • In 1993, the reconstruction of the District Library in Tábor took place.o In 1994, a new building was opened for the District Library in Mladá Boleslav.
  • In 1994, the reconstruction of a new space for the Parliament Library was completed.
  • In 1996, a new library building in the town of Štětí was opened.
  • In 1996, an extension to the State Science Library in Ústí nad Labem was completed. The total area of 1330m2 made it possible to circulate 50,000 book items and provide 100 places for readers.
  • In 1996-1998, the general reconstruction and restructuring of services of the Prague Municipal Library took place. Today there are twice as many readers - i.e. 4,000-5,000 daily.
  • In November 2001, the Jiří Mahen Library in Brno opened after its difficult but attractive reconstruction in the Schrattenbach Palace.
  • At the turn of the millennium, the State Science Library in the regional capital Liberec obtained a new magnanimously designed building. This was the first building of such size in the Czech Republic in 70 years. The building is located in the centre of town in the place where the synagogue previously stood before it was burned down in 1938 during Crystal Night. It cost 517 million CZK and occupies a total area of 12,503 m2 in 4 aboveground and 5 underground floors (the synagogue is 245 m2); the interior spaces are very flexible. There are 1.2 million book items (of which 230,000 are circulated), 300 reading places, and 180 places in other rooms.o In 1998-2001, the construction of the Moravian Regional Library in Brno cost 500 million CZK. There are 3 underground and 8 aboveground floors, a total area of 22,542 m2, 671 study places, 4,073 magazine and newspaper titles, 3 million book items, and underground parking for 96 cars.
  • In 2003, the reconstruction of the building used for the Smíchov branch of the Prague Municipal Library was completed.

After 1989, there was also a significant change in conditions at universities as well as the demands made on obtaining information services. One of the new elements of this process was the construction of university libraries:

  • University Library Pardubice opened a new library building in 1997.
  • In 1996-1997, there was a reconstruction of the library and other spaces to be used by the library of the Faculty of Law, Charles University (increased area by 725 m2 and 217 reading work places).
  • In 1998-1999, there was the reconstruction of a space for the central library of the Technical University Brno.
  • In 1997-1999, the new Ostrava University Library was constructed.
  • In 1999, the extensive reconstruction of the baroque cannon and gun armoury was completed for use by the information centre of Palacký University. An important part of this centre is the university library, which was allocated 5,000m2 here.
  • In 1999-2001, a new university library building was constructed for the Western Bohemia University in Plzeň. There are 3,000 m2 and 216 reading places that have been obtained for the 12,000 students and teachers.
  • In 2001, the library for the Faculty of Arts and School of Social Studies of Masaryk University Brno was completed. The building was awarded the 2002 Grand Prix of the Association of Architects.

More recently, there has been an increase of several libraries every year, whether through reconstruction or brand new buildings. The library buildings are equipped with the most modern library furnishings and equipment. Since 2001, the Olomouc University Library has been regularly organizing the Library and Architecture Conference, where librarians and architects, Czech and foreign, have the opportunity to discuss their ideas and the latest trends in library architecture. Since 2003, it has compiled a database for the Association of Library and Information Professionals of Czech Republic and the State Technical Library regarding buildings constructed in the Czech Republic since 1990 - The database includes information on 121 buildings and is continuously being updated.

The year 2005 is the most significant year for project preparations and the building industry regarding Czech libraries. There was the launching of the construction of the Regional Library in Hradec Králové and the reconstruction of a former military building for the Regional Library in Karlovy Vary. Project planning is under way for the construction of new buildings for the National Technical Library in Prague, the Moravian-Silesian Research Library in Ostrava, and the Vysočina Regional Library in Havlíčkuv Brod. There are also investment plans being made for the construction of a new building for the National Library of the Czech Republic.

Nov 09, 2014