Computers in Academic Architecture Libraries

Article excerpt

The use of computers in architectural research and teaching is now a well-established fact in American schools of architecture.(1) Like other investigational and pedagogical methods, computer-based ones require library support. Effective library support for these newer methods presumably involves more than the simple provision of information about computers and computer applications, but also their integration in so far as possible into the processes of gathering and managing the graphic and other information out of which architectural designs arise.

For more than a century, the space of architectural instruction has extended well beyond the confines of traditional studios and laboratories into the architectural library. Whether academic architectural libraries will remain a part of that space will depend in large part on their ability to participate fully in an increasingly computer-oriented educational enterprise. It therefore seems worthwhile to assess the present availability and use of computers in the libraries serving architecture schools across the United States.

The 1960s saw the beginning of a generalized introduction of computers into American architecture curricula. A 1967 survey of all eighty-six architecture schools affiliated with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture revealed that 64 percent of responding schools had some dealings with computers (usually located in a central location on campus). Another 21 percent were seriously considering the introduction of computers into their curricula, while only 15 percent has no such plans.(2)

Over the past twenty years, emphasis on the use of computers in design has displaced the earlier emphasis on their use as aids in structural analysis. This development has been made possible by dramatic improvements in both hardware (more affordable, smaller, faster, networkable machines) and CAD software (increasingly sophisticated, user-friendly), but ultimately has been driven by the pride of place given to design in most modern schemes for architectural education.

By the mid-1980s computers had begun to move out of isolated laboratories in American schools of architecture and into design studios. They have been increasingly used not just for making calculations or renderings, but as practical design tools. At the same time, spreadsheet and word processing programs are being used to teach aspects of professional practice, specifications writing, and architectural history. The development of computer-based architectural learning modules, taking advantage of recently developed hypertext software and windowing options, is well under way.

Methodology

On December 14, 1990, a questionnaire was mailed to the individuals in charge of the libraries serving the 102 U.S. schools of architecture listed in the main section of the Guide to Architecture Schools in North America (1989).(3) Three months were allowed for the return of responses, of which sixty-nine were received. The response rate of 67.6 percent was thus quite high.

Respondents were asked not to identify themselves on their returns. Nevertheless, it was possible to use the postmarks on return envelopes as a device for grouping responses according to the six regions defined by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA).(4) This grouping was used in four analyses of variance, as explained below.

For each library addressed, the questionnaire sought information in three categories:

* the emphasis placed on

computers by the architectural

curriculum it serves

* the accessibility of computers

and computerized information

to the library's staff

* the accessibility of computers

and computerized information

to the library's patrons

For the purposes of further discussion in this article, the phrase "architecture library" will mean any library that primarily serves the information needs of students and faculty in a particular school of architecture. …