Wednesday, June 18, 2014

UpClose: Designing 21st-Century Libraries | Library by Design

UpClose: Designing 21st-Century Libraries | Library by Design
By Peter Gisolfi

Public libraries are busier and more popular with patrons than ever. Today’s library is a place for social interaction as well as quiet reading. It is a community cultural center, not simply a repository for books. It is a welcoming building with a design focus on transparency, not a series of isolated spaces.


It is often difficult to recognize changing trends while they are still in flux. That said, consider the typical characteristics of today’s 21st-century library. While the library remains an inspiring public building with an important civic presence, many other aspects are different:

  • An informal community cultural center
  • Transparency among spaces so patrons can be seen and more easily served
  • Reading spaces interspersed within the various collections
  • Larger and more varied spaces for children and teens
  • Community, meeting, and activity rooms of varied sizes
  • Daylight in all areas of the building
  • Connections to outdoor space
  • Spaces devoted to computer and Internet instruction and online research
  • Automated systems, and increased staff efficiency
  • Flexibility to accommodate future requirements
  • The library as a community model for sustainable practice


Emerging trends in library building design dramatically affect how the library performs—and vice versa. Today’s patrons and staff use the library differently:
  • Increased number of digital materials reduces space devoted to book collections
  • Automated self-checkout reduces or eliminates the circulation desk
  • Digital card catalog OPAC stations are scattered throughout the library rather than centralized
  • Wireless Internet access throughout the library lets patrons bring their own devices, decreasing the need for banks of stationary computers
  • Automated materials handling systems in larger libraries free up staff and shorten wait times
  • Staff are more accessible to patrons and less separated from them
  • More extensive programming for children and teens is offered
  • Caf├ęs induce informal socializing and an enhanced sense of community
  • Community room, meeting rooms, and even art galleries have a wider agenda

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