Library Design: The Changing Landscape of Today’s Libraries

Library-Design-Changing-LandscapeIt’s been said before, but I think it needs repeating: today’s libraries are not the same as they used to be – even 10 years ago. Back then (as if 10 years really warrants the statement “back then”, but why not) almost no one had heard of an e-book, people were still using flip phones, and college students still relied on desktop computers. Oh my…how times have changed!

People Expect Libraries to do More Than Just Lend Books

The good news is that libraries are willing to adapt to these changes in technology. And it’s not just about adapting to new technology; communities themselves are changing. While reading a book is something many people do – for fun and not just school – they expect more from their local libraries than just books. According to the American Library Association’s 2014 State of America’s Libraries report,

Ninety-six percent of the Americans responding to the Pew survey agreed that public libraries are important because they provide tech resources and access to materials, and the same number found libraries valuable because they promote literacy and a love of reading.

Libraries are community resources. With people receiving help applying for jobs, participating in computer software courses, gathering their children for reading groups, and more, there is a lot libraries have to offer. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Examples of How Libraries are Responding to the Needs and Wants of the Community

For example, Fast Company wrote an article about a library re-opening in Oakland, CA and how the library’s collection is different from most as a response to the needs of the community.

Oakland is among a growing number of libraries across the U.S. that lend tools–as in awls, sledgehammers, and hacksaws–as well as other unexpected items like bakeware, Moog synthesizers, and human skeletons to keep pace with the times.

And the Oakland library isn’t alone. A new public library in the heart of downtown Austin, TX is incorporating a full-service restaurant and 300-person event space for culinary demonstrations. In an article from Austin 360 one of the architects on the project commented,

“Amazon has made us really think about this: If the information is really available in the palm of your hand, what is it about the library that is really important?” he says. “It’s where we gather as a community to learn and share ideas and to come together.”

Changes in Library Functions Affect Design AND Book Storage

Library-Storage-High-Bay-Compact-ShelvingAs part of this shift in the expectations we have for libraries, the overall design of the library has to change. Meaning there will be less of a focus on books and more of a focus on these other activities. However, many libraries – and patrons too – still value the books. And this is where design comes in.

Off-site Book Depositories are Housing Print Books and Archives

In order to make room for other activities while still storing and maintaining a book collection, libraries are turning to off-site book repositories – a place where duplicate copies of print books and archives are stored.

For instance, Florida Polytechnic University’s library has gone completely digital. Instead of traditional print books, students are able to download and purchase digital copies. But there are still print books available to students from an off-site library that also supplies books to a community college. This concept of a book repository isn’t new and, in fact, is gaining traction throughout the country.

Recently, the University of Texas and Texas A&M collaborated to open the Joint Library Facility to provide storage for over a million print books and journals that will be made available for use by other academic or medical institutions. With space on campus at a premium and limited financial resources, the universities wanted a cost-efficient solution to free up space for higher circulating materials and new study areas for students. The Joint Library Facility represented that solution.

Libraries are Using Compact Mobile Shelving On-site to Save Space When Storing Books

Another option that’s appealing to libraries is compact mobile shelving. The shelving allows the libraries to store the same number of books (and in some cases more) on-site, but in less space than traditional static shelving. One of the Arkansas public libraries added a compact mobile shelving system to its basement in order to make room for archive magazines, newspapers, and extra books used throughout other smaller public libraries in Arkansas.

And then there is the combination of an off-site book repository and compact mobile shelving. Western Michigan University consolidated their special collection into a new book repository and used the compact mobile shelving to house it in less space (read about the project here).

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