Designing Pandemic-Ready Libraries

By Andrea Bunker, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

As the doors of libraries begin to open to welcome patrons amidst this new normal of pandemic living, agonizing and costly decisions have been discussed, weighed, and decided. Re-opening plans have been carefully crafted and vetted by boards of health, municipalities, and library trustees. There are no easy considerations. There are no roadmaps. There is only ever-evolving information as research efforts try to keep pace with the spread of the virus. “Designing Libraries for a Pandemic”, the newest episode of “Building Literacy: Public Library Construction”, which is available now for download or streaming, tackles issues related to library design during COVID-19 and beyond, recognizing that there are no steadfast answers.

We convened a virtual roundtable of architects from several of the firms who design buildings for libraries that partake in the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program. Some have projects that have recently opened; some have projects under construction; and some have projects currently in the design stage. No project remains as it was pre-pandemic. Each firm leads discussion on a design topic affected by COVID-19, including circulation patterns, furniture design, small vs. large rooms, exterior spaces, flexibility vs, separation, safety and security, bathrooms, HVAC, and long-term impacts. This esteemed and knowledgeable group discusses changes they are considering and have made, given the most up-to-date information available.

It is important to note that information about COVID-19 and its transmission and behavior is ever-evolving. The discussion of safety measures in this episode are based on research and guidance up until August 4, 2020. We cannot know what further pertinent information will arise in subsequent weeks, months, or years, but we will strive to update this episode to include new information and guidance gleaned from ongoing research in the late fall or early winter.

Over the past five months, we have witnessed you, our talented and dedicated library community, alter spaces, redesign rooms, install protective barriers, create new pathways around your buildings, catapult virtual programming to new heights, and implement procedures to maximize the safety of staff and patrons. You have adapted and changed to provide important library services. While we share with you the thoughtful perspectives of design professionals in this episode, always remember that it is your experience and your expertise in serving your communities that inform library design. We remain in awe of your ability to pivot, the action that defines this year and this decade so far. Thank you for listening.

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