A library is not just a building that holds books (though, true, that can be magical). It is a space that serves and advances the community.
That is a key message in Public Library Facilities for the Future, a nationwide review by Margaret Sullivan Studio. It was commissioned by Sno-Isle Libraries to help library district and community leaders envision and plan facilities over the next decade. For some key messages from the report, click or swipe through the text below.
Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
Most libraries were not built with contemporary learning, needs and activities of people in mind. They were designed for the delivery of the book to the patron. Today’s savvy users also expect more than the basics; they expect an exceptional, customer-centric experience. With more options of places to spend free time, libraries have to live up to expectations and standards set by the private sector. No matter how many items in our collection, citizens will lose interest if the Wi-Fi is not lightning fast, the space is not comfortable or conducive to their needs or the services and space are not highly customizable.
Aspen Institute report
In its 2014 “Re-Imagining Libraries” report, the Aspen Institute called on libraries to work more intentionally to level the playing field so that anyone, regardless of race, class or gender etc., can enter the knowledge economy. The report challenges today’s libraries to understand that “lifelong learning must be abundant and people need skills as knowledge creators, not simply information consumers.”
Richland Library Cooper Branch, Columbia, S.C.
21st century public libraries are necessary for the same reason that public libraries were created in the 19th and 20th centuries: to provide platforms for social equity, income equality, social cohesion and pathways to economic success and opportunity. Libraries are not only providing different services to customers, but customers’ needs and expectations are also changing, forcing the library’s physical spaces to support a variety of activities and programs unimagined even ten years ago.
UdK Bookshop, Berlin, Germany
Libraries are learning institutions and how learning occurs is being re-defined. Therefore, spaces in public libraries need to be redesigned to support this variety of learning experiences, including spaces for social learning, active learning and collaborative learning… Buildings should be designed to accommodate the variety of programming the library is doing now and in the unforeseen programming future. The library design should enable librarians to be innovative, flexible and adaptable to provide programs and activities the community would enjoy. The building should not hinder this potential.
Oak Park Library, IL
The service design approach is a human-centered, human-driven design thinking process, where real customer needs and requirements are used to provide real solutions. Firms such as IDEO and Adaptive Path have been applying this highly interactive and stakeholder-driven approach to large corporations for the last 30 years. It is now being applied to public libraries and having positive results in strategic planning, visioning, building programming and building design.
Richland Library, Main Branch, Columbia, S.C.
Libraries are learning institutions and how learning occurs is being re-defined. Therefore, spaces in public libraries need to be re-designed to support this variety of learning experiences, including spaces for social learning, active learning and collaborative learning.
Fibre Space, Alexandria, VA
The library cannot be all things to all people, but if the design is based on serving real customers, current and future, a positive experience will be intentionally created for those who need or enjoy the services most. In addition, online content dissemination enables libraries to provide resources more broadly, freeing the building from being a repository of materials. This library building is part of a larger network of people, places and platforms.
Chattanooga Public Library
Key spaces in a modern library: Welcome Station that is inviting, approachable on all sides, and full of information or someone who knows where to find it. Popular Collections, a dedicated area for browsing the collection and offering serendipitous discovery in a store-like atmosphere. Vibrant Café, a place to casually meet, converse, and/or have solitary time to relax. Bookstore, where books and other related material can be sold. Community Gallery, a museum-like open area that gives locals and traveling artists a place to display.
Hjørring Central Library, Denmark
More key spaces: Living Room, a vibrant gathering place that promotes intergenerational interaction, exchange and connections. Multi-Purpose Room, a large and open space with varying program functions that can be used by other members of the community after hours. Quiet Room, a peaceful place to look for books, study, or work. Study Room, with varying types of seating that promote group collaboration or solitary study. Phone Room, designated for telephone conversations and video conferencing.
More key spaces: Makers Space, for messy projects where users can work together, alone, or with librarians on special projects, with easy access to tools and supplies. Tech Arts Lab, dedicated to digital arts and equipped with the latest technology and printers. Meeting Rooms, open and closed spaces that can be used for formal or informal meetings. Computer Lab, a classroom that supports digital learning and exploring in groups or individually.
Libraries all over the country are introducing new programs and services that support specific needs of their communities. Some examples:
The Bubbler at Madison Public Library, a space for hands-on, pop-up workshops featuring local experts who share their talents and physical resources
Anythink Libraries the public library system in Colorado known for innovative programming and ideas, including “Experience Zones”
Summer Lunches at Newark Library, A community partnership hosted by the library
Idea Box at Oak Park Library, a dedicated space that each month provides a dynamic, participatory community experience
The 4th Floor at Chattanooga Public Library, a public laboratory and educational facility with a focus on information, design, technology and the applied arts
The Labs at Carnegie Library, a creative technology program for teens
Best Buy Teen Tech Lab, a space for teens to use new technologies with help from mentors, and then share their work with teens around the globe