A group of professionals in the AEC industry recently met to share thoughts and ideas regarding the built environment of libraries in the context of changes with the digital age. Conversation leaders included representatives from higher ed academic libraries, community libraries and architects specializing in library design. Below summarizes insights shared:
How library usage is gauged has shifted from circulation numbers to gate counts. Patrons are checking out fewer books and average stays are for longer periods of time. This marks a notable move from transactional environments to transformational settings. Space usage includes a balance of book stacks and collaboration areas for meetings, computer labs, training and one-on-one interactions. Community libraries are taking a more robust role in serving a wider demographic. While once a key destination for young families and senior citizens, libraries are functioning more as comprehensive learning centers for people of all ages. Drops in circulation can be attributed to patrons capturing content on mobile devises (phones, lap tops, tablets, etc). IT infrastructure for high speed connectivity is critical. Equally important, however, is the human component of how people feel within the space. This prompts more focus to open environments offering organic flows between areas, plenty of natural light, standing work stations, comfortable lounge areas and café areas to mimic settings like Starbucks.
Libraries are evolving from a place of storage and access to collections to settings for engaging scholarship. Cognizance is needed for acoustic separations between collaborative spaces and study areas. While technology is facilitating the process of finding information, the role of library staff is shifting away from that of a gatekeeper to a stronger orientation towards patron engagement and service. This leads to a greater environment of participation. Furthermore, libraries are also becoming settings for users to generate content through blogs and pod casts.
Common design practices to anticipate future digital advancement needs include:
- Inclusion of empty conduit with pull strings for new cabling
- Over design footings so can expand “up”
- Embed technology so don’t know it is there
- Range and balance of spaces for individual engagement [with collection] and for user group use / collaboration spaces
- Need for multi-tasking space; working on own computer or hand-held devises (HHD)
- Security measures / lockdown to prevent theft
- Flexibility use spaces – collaboration room or computer lab
Academic spaces serve more homogeneous user groups. They cater to tech savvy users, have a blended demand for fixed/desktop computers/lab environments and connectivity for personal devises. There is an increasing demand for desktop access with updated software, etc and distributed networks with nodes to accommodate expansion or downsizing. Community libraries are accommodating the digital skills divide by providing access to computers and high speed internet connectivity for lower income families. They have become a place for young people to build skills in technology through offering a variety of spaces that include recording studios and gaming suites. In addition to housing archives and projecting the unique identity of their communities, facilities offer spaces for community group meetings; i.e. entrepreneur groups and resources for life skills and career development.
In looking towards the future, there is general consensus that books will not go away but will not necessarily be the main focus of the library. The human element will drive how libraries adapt to constituents. Libraries will continue to be settings for discovery.