UI Current LIS Clips: The Library as Place: The changing nature and enduring appeal of library buildings and spaces

September 2006 - Compiled and annotated by Sue Searing and Karla Stover Lucht

In this issue:

Part One: General topics and non-academic libraries

Architects' perspectives on libraries

Space planning for


In 1996, the Benton Foundation issued a report that galvanized American librarians to rethink their visions of the future. "Buildings, Books, and Bytes: Libraries and Communities in the Digital Age" reported a public opinion poll on the future of libraries and contrasted it with what library leaders foresaw. Key among the findings was the high value that citizens placed on erecting and maintaining library buildings - ranking it third in importance, right behind providing children's services and providing books. In the ensuing decade, many publications and events have contributed to a lively discussion about the centrality of "the library as place." This issue of UI Current LIS Clips focuses on publications of the past two years (2004-2006), with an emphasis on research findings, case studies, and a variety of topics ranging from green architecture to the lessons learned from successful bookstores. Because of the preponderance of writings about academic and research libraries, Part 2 of this issue focuses on them alone.

Architects' perspectives on libraries

1. "Expert Opinion." Library Journal (Fall 2005 supplement): 45-46. Available at: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6255533.html

Six very brief case studies of new and remodeled libraries, with advice from the seasoned library architects who designed them. (The entire supplement is devoted to buildings and furnishings.)

2. Wallace, Mary Colette. "Do I Need an Architect or Not? Some Things You Should Know." Searcher v.19 no. 9 (October 2005): 48-54.

By law in many states, the design of most non-residential buildings requires an architect. Architects integrate the work of consultants into their designs - such as engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, and security specialists. They may partner with manufacturers to create custom building materials and furnishings for clients.

Selecting an architect for a non-residential project can be a complex process, involving fee-based selection, design competitions, or RFQs (requests for qualifications) and RFPs (requests for proposals). Clients should look for common philosophies and values in an architect, and should consider what is most important: reputation for stunning building designs, experience with similar types of facilities, or hiring someone local.

An architect can provide services at every stage:

The client's "problems" are translated into design parameters, which architects visualize geometrically as planes (e.g. walls) and volumes (e.g. rooms). They develop their ideas as sketches. Before purchasing property, it may be wise to hire an architect to do a site analysis and feasibility study.

Reasons to hire an architect:

(This article also features short sidebar interviews with library architects Sam Miller and Geoffrey Freeman.)

3. Scherer, Jeffrey A. "Designing the Sustainable Library: An Ethical Imperative." In: Libraries as Places: Buildings for the 21st Century, pp. 161-181. Munich: K.G. Saur, 2004. (IFLA Publications no. 109) Available at:http://www.msrltd.com/lectures_writings/ifla03.pdf

Scherer describes how the Fayetteville (AK) Public Library's Blair Library was designed and built in accordance with "green" ethics.

4. Esmay, Michael. "Library Administrators, Leadership, and the Building Expansion Process: An Architect's Point of View." Library Administration & Management vol. 20 no. 3 (Summer 2006): 121-127.

How do library expansions come about?

Why do library expansions end up being so large and costly? Who are the players and personalities? What is involved in reaching consensus?
Space planning for public libraries

5. Dewe, Michael. Planning Public Library Buildings: Concepts and Issues for the Librarian. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2006. 354pp.

This thought-provoking overview defies easy summary, as it ranges from the multiple missions and roles that public library buildings fulfill, to the future of the library as a community space. Although he focuses heavily on libraries in the social and economic context of the United Kingdom, Dewe also discusses exemplary buildings in the U.S. and elsewhere. A chapter titled "Sources of renewal and innovation" covers the symbolic value of the library building, its role in urban and rural regeneration, the conversion of historic buildings, political agendas, design competitions, funding sources, and the balance between aesthetics and function. Other chapters explore: options for service points (not limited to the traditional central library and branches); site selection; renovations and additions; health and safety issues; the planning and design process; "identity, communication and style" in interior and exterior design; and the organization of collections, reader spaces, and work spaces. The author stresses that he has not written a how-to-do-it manual, but rather a basic introduction to the principles and practices of planning and designing public library buildings, with attention to important current issues and controversies. Librarians who have never studied library buildings, or who need to refresh their knowledge, will benefit from the ideas gathered here.

6. Worpole, Ken. "Designing Paradise: Library Architecture in an Age of Lifelong Learning." In Creating Public Paradise: Building Public Libraries for the 21st Century, pp. 16-19. The Hague, Netherlands: Biblion Uitgeverij, 2004.

In this talk, delivered at a conference in March 2004, British scholar Worpole reflects on ten trends that are affecting the library as place:

7. Knisely, Jennifer S. "Children's Library Spaces Support Emergent Literacy." Bookmobile and Outreach Services, vol. 9 no. 1 (2006): 27-39.

"Emergent literacy skills" is an umbrella term for phonological awareness, print awareness, and oral language development -skills that children aged birth to five must acquire as prerequisites for effective formal reading instruction. To nurture emergent literacy through storybook reading and other programs, the library should design developmentally appropriate early childhood spaces:

8. Dempsey, Beth. "Power Users: Designing Buildings and Services from the End User's Viewpoint Transforms Access for Everyone." Library Journal vol. 130 no. 20 (December 2005): 72-75. Available at: http://libraryjournal.com/article/CA6289901.html

Successful remodeling projects at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Brookdale Branch of Hennepin County Library were premised on making the library more intuitive for users. Focus groups at the Carnegie Library identified a group of "power users" who understood the library's systems and made good use of all its resources; but most users found the library complicated and therefore confined their use to a small set of resources. The library employed consultants who specialize in making complex products, services and environments easier to understand. The consultants shadowed users and staff, pinpointing the spots where users lost their way and where staff intervention would be most useful. At Brookdale, discussions with citizens and community groups gleaned similar information.

Brookdale's users (among them many new immigrants) need information and assistance in a few high-interest areas, such as homework, technology, small business, and careers. The library reduced its collection by 50 percent and created subject-based "information neighborhoods." The neighborhoods are delineated by large, commercial-style signs and distinctive carpet patterns; each neighborhood contains all the materials on the subject, including circulating and reference books, periodicals, and databases. The computers in the area default to that subject's homepage. The Dewey Decimal System is still used, but patrons don't have to understand it in order to find materials.

Carnegie Library banned library jargon in its signage; the reference desk is labeled "Ask a Librarian" and the circulation desk, "Customer Service." The location names are enhanced with action words. At the Customer Service area, the sign reads: "Get a library card. Check out and return materials. Pay fees." Placement of signs, information kiosks and maps was determined by observational studies of how users move through the library.

"Visual cacophony" is a problem in libraries. Appointing a Signage Czar and creating a consistent sign system can help. Signage should be conceived in a hierarchy based on its purpose (to navigate, advertise, educate, or label) and each type should have a consistent design template and content. Carnegie Library tested the language of its new signs with users before installing them. Although the library will change over time, once patrons understand the basic patterns, they will be self-reliant and self-confident, and the library will be "future-proofed."

9. Lackney, Jeffrey A., and Paul Zajfen. "Post-Occupancy Evaluation of Public Libraries: Lessons Learned from Three Case Studies." Library Administration & Management, vol.19 no. 1 (Winter 2005): 16-25.

Post-occupancy evaluation (POE), conducted after a facility has been in use for a period of time, systematically evaluates whether it meets the organizational goals and users' needs. While POE brings many benefits, it is not standard industry practice, may raise fears of liability if the report is negative, and may not be included in the construction or operational budget. This article reports on three POEs of new public library buildings in Palm Desert (CA), Queens Borough (NY) Flushing Branch, and Salt Lake City (UT). Each project had unique architectural goals. The POE involved For each of the libraries, the authors present the project's context, the POE findings, and the lessons learned, which range from the need to design for queuing at the circulation desk to the importance of placing bathrooms near public meeting rooms. Some problems, such as insufficient elevators, are not easily solved, but others can be remedied by relocating services, improving signage, fine-tuning the heating and cooling systems, and so on. These case studies illustrate that successful library buildings must: POE can rely in-house surveys and take a few weeks or can be conducted by a hired consultant and take up to several months. POE provides a baseline for continuous improvement.

10. "Libraries as Places."

This annotated list of reasons why public libraries matter as civic spaces can be found on the Urbana (IL) Free Library's news page. UFL recently completed a successful addition and renovation project.

Special topic: Libraries in shopping malls

11. Blakenship, Donna Gordon. "Readin', Writin' and Shoppin'." Retail Traffic, vol. 33 no. 10 (October 2004): 42-46.

This article, written for businesspeople, extols the mutual benefits to stores and libraries of locating public libraries in shopping malls. Examples include the Crossroad Bellevue mall, which houses a branch of the King County (WA) Library System, and the Glendale branch of the Indianapolis-Marion County library. A library contributes to a mall's character as a suburban "downtown", offers customers a quiet oasis, and can serve as an anchor to "replace the department stores that are dying off in older malls." Libraries draw foot traffic to the mall with public programs, and are often designed to resemble bookstores more than traditional libraries. Start-up costs and rents may be higher than other branches, but the high circulation figures make shopping mall locations very cost-effective.

12. Morris, Anne, and Anna Brown. "Siting of Public Libraries in Retail Centres: Benefits and Effects." Library Management, vol. 25 no. 3 (2004): 127-137.

Case study: Cerritos (CA) Public Library

13. Cerritos Library: The Experience Library Project Site.

This graphically rich web site relates how Cerritos (CA) conceived, designed, and built a strikingly innovative new public library focused on the user and grounded in the philosophy that "every experience is a learning experience." In addition to practical advice on each stage of the process, from idea generation through the grand opening, there is a useful set of essays on "lessons learned." Here's a sampling:

The web site includes many photographs and documents, including the building program.
School library media centers

14. Hart, Thomas L. The School Library Media Facilitites Planner. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2006. 253p. plus DVD.

Intended as a practical handbook for school library media specialists, architects, district level media coordinators, and administrators, this book provides step-by-step advice on planning and building a new school library.

The book concludes with a glossary of architectural styles and terms, a 60-page sample planning document, and a sample contract and request for bids.

15. Klafehn, Chris. "Sight, Sound and Supervision: Space Planning for K-12 Library Media Centers." Colorado Libraries, vol. 32 no. 1 (Winter 2006): 25-27.

Klafehn provides detailed advice on materials and dimensions for many components of the ideal school library media center:

The following should NOT be in a school library media center:
Special and medical libraries

16. Blackburn, Janette .S. and Carole.C. Wedge. "Design as a Catalyst: Fostering Collaboration and Community in Special Libraries." Information Outlook vol.9, no.11 (Nov 2005):14-19

The authors discuss what factors and issues should be considered when renovating or expanding a library's space to accommodate the needs of users today.

Tailoring Spaces

Technology-Rich Environments Evolving Service Models Flexible Design The Library as a Place

17. Ludwig, Logan, and Susan Starr. "Library as Place: Results of a Delphi Study." Journal of the Medical Library Association, vol. 93 no. 3 (July 2005): 315-326.

An expert panel of 30 health sciences librarians, building consultants, architects, and information technologists were asked to reflect on 78 opinion statements about future trends that might impact the use of library space. Consensus emerged on 52 statements concerning changes in technology, scholarly communication, learning environments, and the health care economy. Among the specific implications for building design and space usage were:

Although the Delphi study methodology aims at identifying consensus, it is helpful to analyze predictions on which consensus did not emerge. Panel members disagreed not so much about desirability of changes (e.g. 24/7 hours of operation), but about factors such as cost-effectiveness, match to institutional mission, and views of human nature.

18. Connor, Elizabeth, ed. Planning, Renovating, Expanding, and Constructing Library Facilities in Hospitals, Academic Medical Centers, and Health Organizations. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Information Press, 2005. 218pp.

This volume collects thirteen case studies of medical library facilities, organized by type - special libraries (an association's library and a historical collection), hospital libraries, and academic medical center libraries. Each case presents unique issues and solutions, and the chapters are illustrated with floor plans and photographs. Some contain special features. For example, chapter 2, a report on the renovation of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University, includes guidelines for calculating packing and unpacking time. Chapter 4 describes the difficult merger of two hospital libraries, without glossing over the problems and delays. Chapter 8 details the composition and tasks of various teams that planned and managed the renovation of the library at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Editor Elizabeth Connor notes that a number of best practices emerge from the case studies:

The bookstore model

19. Cartwright, Helen. "Change in Store? An Investigation into the Impact of the Book Superstore Environment on Use, Perceptions and Expectations of the Public Library as a Space, Place and Experience." Library and Information Research News, vol. 28, no. 88 (Spring 2004): 13-26.

Cartwright used focus group interviews and questionnaires to probe the attitudes and behaviors of library and bookstore users and staff in the United Kingdom.

20. Woodward, Jeannette. Creating the Customer-Driven Library: Building on the Bookstore Model. Chicago: American Library Association, 2005. 234pp.

Libraries shouldn't mimic book superstores, but all types of libraries can learn from bookstores' successes. (While Woodward covers many topics, including customer service and marketing, this summary only covers issues related to the use of physical space.)

For further inspiration and information


21. Buschman, John E. and Gloria J. Leckie. The Library as Place: History, Community and Culture. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, forthcoming in December 2006.

22. Libraries as Places: Buildings for the 21st Century; Proceedings of the Thirteenth Seminar of IFLA's Library Buildings and Equipment Section together with IFLA's Public Libraries Section. Ed. by Marie-Francoise Bisbrouck et al. Munich: K.G. Saur, 2004, 210pp. (IFLA Publications no. 109)

Twelve papers -- three in French, nine in English -- cover recent library architecture in Europe and North America. Includes many black-and-white photographs.

23. Marshall, John Douglas. Place of Learning, Place of Dreams: A History of the Seattle Public Library. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004. 192pp.v

Published shortly before the opening of Seattle's new central library, designed by internationally renowned architect Rem Koolhaas, this warts-and-all history focuses much of its attention on the buildings that have housed Seattle's collections over the past century.

24. Futagawa, Yuki o. Library. Tokyo: Edie Edita Tokyo, 2006. 319pp.

Inspiring color photos of the interiors and exteriors of fifty libraries in Japan, the US and Europe, designed by notable modern architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright, I.M. Pei, and Frank Gehry. Thumbnail floor plans and brief commentaries in English and Japanese are included.


25. American Libraries.

Each year, the April issue of American Libraries focuses on library architecture. In addition to a handful of feature articles on the theme, many color photographs of newly designed library interiors provide inspiration and ideas.

26.Library Journal.

Library Journal has been compiling data on new and renovated library buildings since 1969. The December issue highlights "The Year in Architecture" with lists of new and renovated buildings and their costs, trend analyses, a directory of architects, and color photographs of library interiors and exteriors.

Web sites

27. Library Design Resources

This extensive pathfinder provided by the Environmental Design Library at UC-Berkeley identifies relevant reference books, websites, keywords, subject headings, indexes, journals, organizations, and more.

26. Whole Building Design Guide.

Sponsored by the National Institute of Building Sciences, the WBDG brings together information about requirements, standards, technologies and trends for many sorts of buildings. Click on "Building Types" on the left-hand menu; then find "Libraries" on the alphabetical list. On separate pages for academic, public, school, and presidential libraries, the building's key attributes are described, and standards and guidelines are cited. A section headed "Emerging Issues" suggests trends and future developments that building planners should keep in mind.

29. Schlipf, Fred, and John Moorman. "The Curse of Carnegie: Can Modern Public Libraries Find True Happiness in Historic Buildings?


A humorous list of twenty-one "useful aphorisms" presented at the Public Library Association conference in March 2006. Example: "Despite our attachment to an historic library, if no one can park anywhere near it, it's a bad idea to spend millions fixing it up."

30. The Library as Place: Symposium on Building and Revitalizing Health Sciences Libraries in the Digital Age. National Library of Medicine and Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries. November 5-6, 2003.
http://www.aahsl.org/building/agenda.html Also available on DVD.

This excellent conference program offers valuable insight about how information is organized, accessed, and stored in contemporary libraries. While the focus is on health sciences libraries, much of the information is relevant to all libraries. The website includes videos of all sessions and PowerPoint slides for most of them.

31. Rossi, Karen. "Information Architecture and Customer Service." http://www.carnegielibrary.org/presentations/rossi/NJLibAssnApr2006/index_files/frame.html

This conference presentation from spring 2006, including the speaker's notes as well as the slides, describes how the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh applied the concept of "information architecture" grounded in the users' experience when it remodeled its main building. Rossi gives many examples of changes not just to the organization and demarcation of space, but also the placement and wording of signage and the design of the library's website and online catalog.