Last week I had the opportunity to view one of the College of DuPage Teleconferences titled Library Spaces: Future Needs. The presentation was a part of the Library Challenges & Opportunities 2008 series, and offered a lot of good advice (and examples) of changing needs in public and academic libraries. A couple of main concepts that I took away are discussed below.
Zones – The architects featured in the teleconference (Elisabeth Martin and Jeffrey Hoover) specialize in library design and planning. They introduced the new (to me) idea of “zoning” your library based on the different types of spaces/services that are provided. Some of the zones could include a welcome area, the living room zone (the heart of the library, where information is being used via computers, collaborative seating, couches, etc), the information commons (where users are seeking information and assistance), the youth zone (in public libraries), programming (auditoriums, conference rooms, instructional spaces), administrative/support services (office areas) and a civic zone (courtyards, garden, paths and walkways). They showed a variety of library floor plans where they had zoned using different colors, and it was very interesting to see “the big picture” in terms of locations. I would actually like to do this (just out of curiosity) with the floor plans of RIT Libraries. Hmm… perhaps I will.
Technologies – What library-related conversation would be complete without a discussion of new technology?? Not a one. We learned about Helsinki City Library’s “Information Gas Station” (iGS), a mobile reference service unit (the Information Barrel), that users can visit at malls or at different locations. Another concept was the use of ATM technology at self-checkout stations for users to pay fines on the spot. Collapsible shelving as well as retractable bleacher systems were also mentioned.
A common thread throughout the teleconference was providing opportunities for collaboration and flexibility. This can be accomplished by taking into consideration future space needs and changing services. Although we may not be able to predict the future, we can take steps like utilizing reconfigurable furniture, looking for success in other industries (merchandising the collection similar to bookstore displays, having a concierge-like presence in the welcome zone), remembering that the reference desk is usually a barrier and weighing the use of lighting and features that add to ambiance with space used for the collection (although library real estate is valuable, there must be a balance). We can also remember that users tend to gravitate toward the perimeter of the room rather than the core (necessitating seating there), to give every seat access to two outlets and provide visually connected spaces as well as quiet, private spaces.
The speakers advocated for a library “self-examination”. One of my favorite parts was when they showed two diagrams I have crudely recreated below:
The lines represent the collection and the dots represent users. In the older model, the collection was at the center. In the new model, the resources in the collection are centered around the user. I think this way of thinking can be applied not only to the physical arrangement of a library, but to the mindset librarians should now be looking towards. Instead of simply coming here to use our resources, patrons are coming here to gather with others, to seek assistance, and access resources specific to their need. The collection is no longer the biggest draw (for student users at least). Books are no longer the magnets for libraries, we must aspire to provide other services including a neutral, safe space, points of access, and offering customized and personal assistance based on our users’ needs.