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  For this segment, we are going to focus on what happens when your design becomes outdated.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  Whether you are in an old building or new, you will eventually face the challenge of trying to make an outdated design look timeless.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 . . ."

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