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.

New Season of Construction Podcast: Looking to the Past in an Uncertain Present

By Andrea Bunker, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

Thank you for helping the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program’s (MPLCP) podcast “Building Literacy: Public Library Construction” reach close to 450 downloads!

In our second season, we look to our past- wisdom from former library building specialists, a primer on the history of the MPLCP, and our response to a 105-year-old speech about faults commonly found in Massachusetts libraries constructed during that era. A common thread weaves through all these episodes: although time ticks forward and technology and building materials evolve, human behavior, attitudes, and resilience remain consistent.

As we look to the future of library design and construction, the best way to develop a responsive plan is to truly understand all that has preceded and influenced our present. Patience Jackson and Rosemary Waltos provide us with a well-rounded perspective of the design challenges and construction errors they encountered during their years as library building consultants for the agency in “Words of Wisdom.” They follow up this advice with an in-depth conversation about the origins and evolution of the MPLCP, which has weathered many economic storms in its 30-year existence, in “The History of the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program.”

While recording the first two episodes of season two, Patience called our attention to a speech from 1915 that exists in our files. The writer and speaker was Alice G. Chandler who, in addition to being a Trustee at the Lancaster Public Library, made advisory visits to libraries across the Commonwealth for the Free Public Library Commission, critiquing everything from their buildings to their cataloging systems. In her speech, which our colleague Liz Babbitt reads in its entirety at the end of the episode, “Some Things Never Change,” Ms. Chandler relays the numerous concerns related to recently constructed library buildings throughout Massachusetts. As library building specialists, we were taken aback by how relevant and true her statements remain. Therefore, we discuss the similarities between our common comments today and those made 105 years ago. We don’t cover every aspect of planning, design, and construction, but we hope you find some useful information for your own project.

The first few episodes of season three are forthcoming. We recently zoomed with several architects who design public libraries in the Commonwealth and beyond to learn more about pandemic-related changes they are contemplating and any lasting ramifications in their work on libraries. We have also begun collecting the building project stories of Directors and Trustees who have recently completed new or renovated and expanded libraries or lost their votes to secure approval. We plan to have topical episodes including issues like advocacy, fundraising, building committees, and much more, integrating these narratives from both successful and unsuccessful (for now!) projects.

As always, if you have any suggestions for future episode topics, please email me at andrea.bunker@mass.gov. We hope you learn as much from listening to each one of the episodes as we do creating them.

Building Literacy: Public Library Construction Podcast

COVID-19 has caused all of us to shift operations and services to meet the needs of those we serve, and, for the MBLC’s Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program, that means moving our in-person workshops and site visits to the digital realm. As such, we, the Construction Team, would like to introduce you to our new endeavor: the “Building Literacy: Public Library Construction” podcast, in which we will explore all topics relevant to the entire construction process.

The first two episodes replace our Sustainability Summit, a summit geared toward anyone seeking to incorporate sustainability into a major building upgrade or a partial or whole building project. In episode one, “Sustainability and Building Performance: An Interview with Building Evolution Corporation”, we talk with Building Evolution Corporation’s (BEC) Wesley Stanhope, BEC’s Founder and CEO, and Ken Neuhauser, BEC’s President, about practical steps you can take to plan for and implement partial and whole-building projects that achieve energy goals while not compromising on other aspects of building performance.

In episode two, “Designing for Sustainability: An Interview with Finegold Alexander Architects”, we discuss how architects approach the integration of sustainable measures within the design process to reduce energy load and usage and how it impacts project budgets in an interview with Finegold Alexander Architects’ Ellen Anselone, Rebecca Berry, Josephine Penta, and Beth Pearcy. We encourage anyone with even a thought of undertaking any building project of any scale to listen to these episodes, as sustainability goals must be identified early and remain a priority throughout the process.

The podcast is  also a response to substantial feedback we received about  our program. It was clear that stakeholders in public library construction projects are seeking as much in-depth information and as many mentorship opportunities as possible throughout the process. An interview-based podcast seemed like a logical mechanism in which to deliver these resources, as listeners can access the episodes as the topics arise in their own building project trajectory.

In future episodes, we hope to cover everything from advocacy and fundraising to what to expect a year after your new and improved public library opens. If you have questions stemming from an existing episode, specific topic suggestions for other episodes, or if you have participated in our program and would like to be interviewed for a mentorship and lessons learned episode, please contact Library Building Specialist Andrea Bunker at andrea.bunker@state.ma.us

In this podcast, companies and firms are and will be featured, sharing their expertise and knowledge with library building project stakeholders in an effort to create a better, more informed experience. In no way does the featuring of these companies or firms on this podcast constitute an endorsement or a promotion of those companies or firms by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. These interviews are meant to serve as an educational resource only.