Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program Blog

2014 Library Interior Design Awards

See the LJ article here:


This post was written by Lauren Stara on November 13, 2014

Why do we need physical libraries?

You’ve probably seen Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries by the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program. I can’t resist sharing this quote from page 13:

In an increasingly virtual world, physical library places are community assets. They:

  • ESTABLISH PERSONAL CONNECTIONS that help define community needs and interests
  • PROVIDE AN ANCHOR for economic development and neighborhood revitalization
  • STRENGTHEN COMMUNITY IDENTITY in ways that yield significant return on investment, including drawing people together for diverse purposes
  • PROVIDE A SAFE AND TRUSTED LOCATION for community services such as health clinics, emergency response centers, small business incubators, workforce development centers and immigrant resource centers
  • CREATE CONNECTING PLACES in new locations that draw people together—shopping malls, big box stores, airports and mobile buses

This post was written by Lauren Stara on November 10, 2014

The thorny question of collection size vs. people space

Roe and I have been holding sessions around Massachusetts that we’re calling Design Roundtables. These are sessions for people entering into the planning and design process in preparation for the next construction grant round, and they are focused on trends and ideas related to library design. As part of the process, we’ve asked the attending library directors to send us questions ahead of time so that we can make sure we have at least some semblance of an answer.

I received an email this morning asking one of those questions — the ones that are really impossible to answer without a functional crystal ball, and unfortunately I left mine in my other lifetime. But I’ll give it a shot, because it’s one that I think every librarian is thinking about.

The question:
Are new library buildings/designs losing collection space to community space – is that officially a trend? If so, how much space?

I can’t say that we’re actually losing space to community space, at least not yet. I’d say that we’ve definitely passed the point of steady growth and, depending on your community and their needs, may be maintaining a steady collection size or starting to shrink. The exceptions to this in public libraries are print reference collections, some AV formats and periodical backfiles. These collections are definitely shrinking, disappearing or being redistributed as the result of digital collections and media.

We are at a real crossroads in the information world. Print or digital? Collections or community space? The real issue is that people want all of the above − a real challenge in already jam-packed libraries.

The demand for community space is a definite trend. Meeting space, program space, collaboration space, study space, creation space — these are all variations on a theme. People want and need places to do stuff that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with traditional collections.

So libraries need to either make more space, repurpose existing space, or create flexible space. Estimating how much shelving space you need is a real challenge, and compounding the problem is the clear trend away from traditional stack layouts and toward more displays and lower shelves. Incorporating moveable shelving can make it possible to use the same space for collections and programs. Mobile shelving can’t be as dense as traditional 7-high steel stacks, but many patrons find it difficult to use very high and very low shelves anyway. This means we have to let go of the “just in case” mentality of saving everything because someone might need it someday. If it’s not being used and it’s not unique to your library, get rid of it. It’s taking up valuable space.

Above all, we have to be thoughtful about all this. The organic evolution of collections and space is a thing of the past. We have to think about how much space we can afford to devote to each function and plan intelligently.

Planning a new or renovated building is a massive undertaking that requires a lot of research, planning and a real leap of faith. We don’t have a crystal ball. But with some work it’s possible to make a library that’s flexible enough to adapt to whatever’s on the horizon.

This post was written by Lauren Stara on October 20, 2014

Update to Planning and Design grant awards

In the weeks since the announcement of the Planning and Design grant awards a couple of changes have taken place.

  • The Commissioners awarded a provisional grant of $40,575 to Monterey Public Library on July 10, 2014 to expend the remainder of available planning & design funds
  • Hamilton Memorial Library in Chester notified us that they would be unable to accept their planning & design grant of $41,205
  • The Commissioners awarded a provisional grant of $41,205 to Deerfield’s Tilton Library on September 4, 2014

This post was written by Lauren Stara on September 17, 2014

Bookending the Building Process

This Saturday, September 13, will see the beginning of a building project in one Massachusetts town and the spectacular conclusion in another.

Eastham Public Library will hold its groundbreaking ceremony at 10 am at its current location: 190 Samoset Road.

Simultaneously, the South Hadley Public Library will celebrate the Grand Opening of its new building at 2 Canal Street from 9 am to 1 pm.

Congratulations to both communities!

This post was written by Lauren Stara on September 9, 2014

LJ Design Institute comes to Boston

Mark your calendars – we’ve been working on this for several months, and it’s finally on its way! Boston Public Library, in partnership with the MBLC, will host a Design Institute on December 5, 2014.

Design Institutes are day-long immersive experiences devoted to library building design. It’s totally free, but limited to the first 100 registrants. For more information, click on the link below:

This post was written by Lauren Stara on September 5, 2014

Five libraries receive provisional grant awards

Congratulations to the Chester C. Corbin Library (Webster), the Woburn Public Library, the Hopkinton Public Library, the Somerville Public Library and the Stoughton Public Library! This morning, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners approved provisional awards totaling over $44.6 million for these five communities to build or improve their facilities.

The Governor’s General Bond Bill was signed this week, providing $151.2 million for public library construction. Details may be found on the press release at

This post was written by Lauren Stara on August 7, 2014

Construction Bond Bill has passed!

The bond bill (H.3933) has been signed by the Governor and we will move forward with awards to libraries on the waiting list. The MBLC Board is meeting this morning and will have announcements later today.

This post was written by Lauren Stara on August 7, 2014

Thinking about the link between library use and design

A really great post about user behavior in libraries, again from #uklibchat — it focuses on academic libraries but is still excellent:

This post was written by Lauren Stara on July 9, 2014

What contributes to good library design?

This string was shamelessly lifted from — via the Designing Libraries blog from the UK.

#uklibchat summary- Library design – 3rd June 2014

A summary of our April chat on reading can be found below.  A full archive of the chat can be found at


1. What outstanding design features have you seen in library buildings? (Your own or others)

Some fantastic designs were shared for this question, including:

2. What design pitfalls should be avoided at all costs?

It looks like everyone shares a dislike of atriums in libraries – it is difficult to regulate noise and temperature in a large open area – but they are very popular with architects.

The other big issue discussed was poor signage and wayfinding. The University of York and Anglia Ruskin University were given as examples of good signage, which use images and colour coding rather than a wall of text. Plasma screens and other electronic signs can help to cut down on the number of posters and notices needed.

Other things to be avoided were garish colours and patterns, heavy/inflexible furniture, bean bags, off-putting barriers between users and staff.

Staff spaces are often neglected but this leads to upset staff who don’t feel invested in.

However @Preater pointed out that it is difficult to  pick things to avoid “at all costs” because you are always constrained by things not under your control.

3a. What skills are required when planning a new library building/refurbishment project?

Common themes were:

  • Good communication & negotiation skills – and the ability to say no!
  • Thorough consultation with users (& non-users) – and evaluation of the results
  • Strategic thinking
  • Flexibility/an open mind

3b. If you have been involved in a library design project, what kinds of surveys/engagement with users did you do?

Surveys – post-its, electronic surveys, asking students to pick preferred image from lots of pairs of images of library spaces.

Consultation/focus groups, inviting users and staff to meet with architects and designers.

Small-scale pilot projects – e.g. get a small amount of the intended furniture first and get honest feedback.

Engaging non-users as well – finding out where people study outside of the library, eaching out  rather than expecting them to come to you (one library posted up plans for new building by the lunch queue). Find out if they are “can’t-users” instead.

4. Have you got any advice on working with architects/suppliers etc.?

A few people emphasised how important it is to check & recheck the designs as it is easy for things to creep on/off the design as it goes through many iterations.

@LibClare‘s library found talking to a psychologist very useful in understanding how people use space. Users could also complete diary exercises, and there are apps that can help with this (e.g. People Watcher)

Make sure that the designs will actually work by using established suppliers, visit libraries already using the supplier and ask them questions. Fancy shelving designs can turn out to be impractical when they are actually in use (e.g. slippery metal shelves, curved or shaped shelves which are less practical for fitting in books). Staff expertise and user evidence needs to balance out the architects’ emphasis on aesthetics.

5. How are you responding to changing user needs in your library buildings/space?

Examples of good practice included flexible spaces/furniture, teaching digital literacy and providing tech services, integrating technology such as GPS/RFID to improve customer experience, creative use of staff.

However it is not always possible to respond to changing needs as quickly as we would like. Lack of funding and support can restrict how well a library can adapt.

There is also the danger of trying too hard to please everyone and to be flexible but ending up with an incoherent design that pleases no-one.

We agreed on the need to keep consulting with users and not making assumptions about their needs.

@PennyB and @SamanthaClare pointed out the importance of thinking about people who are excluded from using our services, and thinking about accessibility on a deeper level than just the legal aspects. Very few library designs go further than thinking about wheelchair access when considering accessibility. This was a very valuable discussion and we will be hosting a separate chat on the subject of accessibility in a few months as I’m sure there is a lot more to talk about here.

6. How do you persuade larger organisations to invest in library spaces?

Top tips:

  • Share success stories – show off the value you are adding
  • Make the library a hub of relevant services – make it the place to be
  • Demonstrate how the library helps your organisation achieve its business objectives

7. Where is your favourite space for research/study and why? (It doesn’t have to be a library space)

Some preferred to “nest” with all their papers and books spread out within arm’s reach. Others preferred a “hot-desk” approach, working in a different spot each time depending on their mood. For some, it was important to be near a window with lots of light, others find sitting by a window too distracting. Several people mentioned the British Library reading rooms as a great spot to work. The wide range of responses to this question emphasised how important it is for a library to provide a variety of types of study space.

This post was written by Lauren Stara on July 9, 2014

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