Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Library Design 101: Planning for the Future

In the previous segments of Library Design 101, we covered the many designs of libraries and the functionality of space.  For this segment, we are going to focus on what happens when your design becomes outdated.  As time continues to roll on, design goes through phases of what is fashionable and what is not.  Whether you are in an old building or new, you will eventually face the challenge of trying to make an outdated design look timeless.  Here are a few things to help you achieve that look:

If the design of the library isn't cohesive, it doesn't matter what cool and modern furniture you have.  To make your library design cohesive you should consider factors like color, function, and form.  Taking into consideration all of these factors and the materials you have to work with, it is possible to create a cohesive design with mismatched furniture. Without unity among furniture pieces, the space will instantly have a dated look.  When cohesion is created, it doesn't matter what decade the furniture is from, the space suddenly comes alive for both staff and customers.

In the last segment, I mentioned that shelves often define the space within the library because they are big, natural dividers and usually extremely difficult to move.  Because shelves are difficult to move, it means that everything in the library usually just gets moved around according to the already defined space.  While I could argue that moving shelves are definitely worth the trouble, I will make the case for other movable pieces instead.  The furniture I have in mind for this category can be divided into three groups:

1. Tables and Chairs - are the easiest thing in the library to move besides the books and are often relocated by customers on a daily basis.  It may seem like tables and chairs are easy enough to arrange but, in fact, a lot more thought could go into the way we set up this furniture.  Consider first how the customer uses the furniture by observing behavior.  If you are constantly replacing chairs to their rightful place or pushing tables back together, then you may want to reconsider the configuration to maximize customer benefit.  Having worked in a building that was constructed before the internet, arranging tables to coincide with outlets for laptops was a big driving force in planning our library space for the future.  What other uses can you think of that may determine how you arrange tables and chairs?

2. Displays - and other marketing furniture are great ways to define the space and make it relevant to your customer's needs.  Thinking unconventionally, art can be a great display to modernize your outdated space.  Art doesn't have to be watercolors or oil on canvas; it can be anything (fashion included.)  Display tables for books and other promotional marketing material have the capability of creating traffic patterns which you can work toward the library's benefit.  Items on display should change often enough so customers and staff remain intrigued by them and even display furniture should rotate on occasion to stimulate and renew enthusiasm about the space.  Take into consideration how often your the average customer visits the library and change displays accordingly.  Doing this will ensure that complacency does not happen.

3. Shelving - is often in the form of big shelving units but you can most likely move the individual shelves.  Your library may also have separate shelving units that hold collections which can be moved easily.  These units can really deter customers and make the space inefficient if used incorrectly.  The shelving unit pictured to the left is one such case.  When placed five feet to the left, it caused the space to feel cramped and overwhelmed. Not surprisingly, the audiobooks featured on the display did not circulate because of the poor atmosphere is created within the space.  Moving it where it now stands helped tremendously with the functionality of the space and, therefore, with circulation.

Shelving that, for the most part, stays where it is initially set up can be a little more difficult to bring into the 21st century.  For these structures, incorporating modern elements (i.e. signage, displays within the shelves, etc.) can transform an outdated shelving unit into a bookstore design.  Because shelving is expensive, changing out and updating the little things can work a whole lot of magic.

Using these principals and the ones outlined in the Library Design 101 and 102, find what design element work for your library.  Sometimes it's impossible to know what will work and what will not.  You should never be afraid to try out something new for fear of failure.  In the grand scheme of things, it is better to try and fail instead of always wondering "what if . . ."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Library Design 101: Logical Arrangments

A great design concept means nothing until schematics are involved.  As I stated in Library Design 101: Design Concepts, form should follow function and if the space you've designed does not meet the customer's needs, it manifests itself in the form of moving furniture.  Furniture rearrangement is the type of cue we should take from our customers to create a better spacial arrangement.  Let's consider the must-haves of every library and incorporate them into a logical design using a hypothetical library layout.  Most libraries use one of two different basic layouts (shown below.)
These two illustrations do not really show the complexity of architectural design, which may provide additional space such as meeting rooms, reading rooms, and any other nook and cranny, but I want this to be relevant to the most basic of library spaces.  Therefore, the space that customers occupy can usually be broken into a Square or L-shape schematic like these.

Now that we have space, consider everything that will go into the library - tables, chairs, computers, and shelves are the basics.  In order to break up the negative space, we use furniture to form sections of the library varying by collection type.  The most common furniture used to make these distinctions are shelves.  In an L-shaped library, it is common practice to put children's materials on one side while having adult and other study furniture on the opposite side.  In a square shaped space, a little more effort must be applied.

I like to think in terms of noisy and quiet. Thinking in terms of how people use the library, you can divide them into groups of whether their transactions will be noisy or quiet.  Children, for example, are not exactly the most quiet of customers.  Placing this section in an area where noise is to be expected, like the front of the library near the circulation desk, may be an optimal placement.  For those people who come to the library seeking peace, may find refuge toward the back.  Here is a suggested schematic design (drawn in Paint, so please excuse my crude, not-to-scale drawing.)   

In the drawing, lines designate shelving units, circles represent placement of tables, and squares recommend placement of computers.  In the Square layout, I've designated the front, left space to children's materials.  From here, the customer can grow counter-clockwise into young adult and then into the adult collection.  Because my tables are not to scale, imagine that multiple tables and reading chairs occupy these areas to make a common space.  Computers are in the far corner for several reasons:
  • It gives a sense of privacy, as most people using public computers must do so to conduct private business when there is no home computer in the household.
  • It is far away from the children's area (think CIPA)
  • Computers generate noise as well, and this secludes them from the study area in the center of the library.
  • Computers placed in the back (like milk in a grocery store) forces customers to unconsciously browse the library.
In the L-shaped layout, the same counter-clockwise rotation is true, keeping in mind the children's area,  young adult section, computers, and adult study areas.  

You may have noticed some negative space remaining in my crude drawing.  I'm sure that you are thinking of multiple sections I've left out or displays that have not been considered, and you would be exactly right.  We'll get to that in my next post, Library Design 101: Designing for the Future.

Until next time, I'd love to hear your answer to this question:
In the L-shape design, considering you enter the building from the bottom left corner and proceed to the adult collection,  should the non-fiction section (Dewey 001-999) begin at the red or purple arrows?