Libraries Rebound: space as distinctive asset

June 28th, 2012 by Merrilee

This is the penultimate posting summarizing Libraries Rebound. This posting covers the rich session which looked at the various way that leading libraries are using space as an asset for creating and leveraging partnerships on campus.

Sarah Pritchard from Northwestern University addressed political aspects of leveraging library space as asset, especially in an era where all too often there is a conception that in our increasingly digital world, there is no longer a need for library space (“hasn’t everything been digitized yet?”). However, there is a leadership role for the library to play here, making the case for library services that put campus goals, not library goals, at the center. This understanding of how to build political advantage is key to getting money for space needs. So if a new university president comes in with a new strategic direction for the campus, be sure that library space needs mirror that plan. Sarah also emphasized the importance of having a well thought out master plan before moving forward; “It’s far better to have a plan and no money, then money and no plan.” A plan that incorporates a number of smaller projects can maintain a sense of progress; Sarah cautions that it can be difficult to “motivate the love” for redoing a large building, and it may be more savvy to focus on which parts of the plan are achievable and high priority (for example, point-of-service centers, located strategically in key locations). Library space can be used as a carrot in creating partnerships on campus. If you are a good partner, funds may be freed up for building projects more readily. The good news is that space projects can leverage all sorts of funding: campus funding, estate funding, and philanthropy. Weird as it may seem “code violations can be your friend.” Violations may qualify you to tap into special funds for improvements, so keep up with changes in local codes. Final words of advice: change requires data, politics, and money. Without all three, your chances for success are diminished. And echoing the services theme, “Emphasize the librarian not the library.”

Shawna Sadler’s talk was based on her experiences with the recently built Taylor Family Digital Library at the University of Calgary. The TFDL is a LAMP: Library, Archive, Museum, Press (all under one roof). Before breaking ground on the building key words used discussion with architects included: agile (i.e. reconfigurable), contemporary, inspiring, and innovative. Some outcomes of developing an agile space include having a subfloor for power and data, and movable walls, both of which allow for flexibility going forward. Power and wireless are so essential that Calgary put a lot of thought into making both very easy to get to. For example, electrical sockets are built into furniture (so you don’t need to crawl around to plug in) and wireless was carefully configured so that it worked well throughout the building (who knew that books and bookcases absorb the signal?). Work surfaces are optimized for mobile devices — 1.5 inches lower than usual. Furniture is mobile (and moves around frequently as students reconfigure the space to work for them). When you provide a fantastic workspace, students and others are reluctant to get up, for fear of losing their spot. So reference librarians have been equipped for mobile reference with iPads. The TFLD enables collaborative work through a range of shared workspaces, editing rooms, practice rooms – all with enviable tech bells and whistles.

Wayne Gehrke and Andrea Will from Group 4 Architecture rounded out the session with the architect’s view of the planning process for new and improved buildings. They started by emphasizing, “if you don’t plan your library someone else will.” Much is made of the economic down turn, but recognizing that there is a cycle liberates you to take advantage of “down” cycles to do space planning; even thought it doesn’t seem like it, there will be an “up” and with funding in hand, you can execute on plan. The planning stage presents a great opportunity to think about new and existing programs, and to develop new partnerships. This is also time to get staff out of the building and to help facilitate new ideas, understanding emerging trends. This is also a time to engage students, faculty, and other stakeholders who can help build the story. Where do they do work and how?

Our responder panel included Chris Banks (University of Aberdeen); Simon Neame (University of British Columbia), and Lorelei Tanji (University of California, Irvine).

Chris spoke about her own new library. (You can see photos of the building in this Flickr group, although I don’t think photos do the building justice). Chris reinforced the importance of planning, saying building projects require a “passion for process.” The new Aberdeen library has generated increased use (both reflected in increased footfall and circulation) but she attributes this not only to the new building, but a new integrated discovery layer which was introduced at the same time. A positive outcome of the new building and related efforts? Chris has received reports from faculty in different departments that the quality of citation has increased since opening of new library and introduction of improved services.

Simon said that although space represents a huge opportunity, students on his campus still value traditional spaces. At UBC the building is officially the “learning center” but students still refer to it as the library, even though it has few books. Space planning is a good time to reconsider traditional library spaces and services. Finally, how to assess the success of buildings? Footfall is not the best metric.

Lorelei provided a contrast to other speakers, as UC Irvine is at the beginning of their building planning process. Irvine has many collaborative opportunities — with the writing center, campus IT and student outreach. Lorelie talked about Irvine’s efforts to both use and monitor social media to market libraries and measure reactions. Today’s students are part of the “verge generation” and are very at ease with sharing their experiences. Monitoring social media can be like a focus group on the library every day.

Other takeaways from the space discussion:

Collecting data to manage workflows is more important than design. – Sarah Pritchard

The future of research libraries is working with niche technology. –Simon Neame

Proposals should be clear to those external to the organization — “do not make the user figure out your internal organizational structure.” – Sarah Pritchard

Moves help to create change in research libraries because they allow staff to let go of stuff (not just paper) – Chris Banks

We’ll be back with a final post summarizing the main takeaways from the meeting and the discussion!

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