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.
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