Libraries with No Limits: Navigating the Digital Landscape

We see libraries with no limits, based on the expansion of digital content. But the expansion of digital material leads to the need for a guide. According to Eric Maslowski, co-director of the Digital Media Commons at the University of Michigan, “I think of us as Sherpas through the digital landscape.” This “guide” analogy is apt: Libraries offer both access to expensive tools and unique knowledge of the tools offered. Thus, a “digital Sherpa” can lead you to your research article or support you through your learning journey.

Libraries have been evolving for years; the need for space and service planning is ongoing. The academic library has been under pressure to change: from competing academic services that keep University libraries from gaining momentum, to a need for long-term investments in the physical building. We work with academic librarians and academic service specialists to develop an effective Learning Commons. We help counter limits on librarians’ effectiveness and on the space available for study, research and digital “mountaineering.” Effective spaces enable staff to effectively guide students and faculty to the right material.

We are working on a new Library Operations Model. It focuses on the service platforms. It offers two advantages over traditional modes:

1. Focus
2. Speed

To begin, gather a strategic planning team and start a self study. We can help develop activities to guide you through library service changes. If you need some ideas on how to start a workshop, take a look at Amy Hewitt’s SOAR sample agenda.

Next Generation Library Vision

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Library Space Planning: The Third Place

What is the third place? It is a library or community center, learning commons or co-working space. In a community or campus building, the third place is the library. It provides social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home (“first place”) and the workplace (“second place”). In the library planning world, the third place concept helps the project team search of answers. It helps us develop the library space plan with spaces for students and co-workers – young and old.

According to Nancy Murrey-Settle (YALSA) “When 3rd Place is Good. Empowering Students in the Library” the high school library is one of the few places where students are given decision-making power. ‘ Sure, it is the decision-making power over their own actions, but, that is where empowerment starts. ‘ When they walk through that library door, decisions await. ‘ Where to sit, computer or table? ‘ Do they need to work, or socialize a bit?

We remember Boarders Books and its periodical / coffee bar / newspaper reading areas, than Starbucks with convenient Wi-Fi locations to support mobile work. Now, Staples and Workbar are developing their own ‘third place’, offing co-working membership areas and prescheduled meeting spaces.

The environment for work in the 21st century is changing, requiring academic and public libraries to think about their space differently. The Staples and Workbar project is an example of a high-end workspaces, conference rooms and private phones rooms that is part of the ‘third place’ transformation of work. The retail spaces are programmed to be between 2,500 o 3,500 sq. ft. and offer collaboration spaces as well as wi-fi, printers and ‘bottomless’ coffee and tea to keep the connectivity and productivity flowing.

We think of the library as part of a hub and spoke network of learning spaces on campuses or in a community. Co-working spaces link students to project-based learning activities; they are often convenient locations with extended hours to support study activities on campus. The Pubic Library’s efforts to be a ‘third place’ provides co-working space for small business customers, independent professionals, startups and the mobile workforce. Below is an example of an adaptable Library…

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Learning Commons – Collection Development

There has been a noticeable shift in the education environment, creating new challenges for anyone managing a campus, school or research institution. The buildings on campus are becoming more collaborative and student success oriented. The classrooms, hallways and dorms are morphing into a creative biosphere with areas for students to study in a variety of library-like environments. These are environments that allow for mobility in what we call a Learning Commons.

The development of the Learning Commons requires a sustainable plan for development. The digital library has become a catalyst for interdisciplinary collaborations; spaces to work that is not isolated. It is a time when the library, schools and campuses need to evolve and transform into a more effective environment.

Closely aligned with the development of the learning commons is the use of library collections in a sustainable manner. In the “The Art of Weeding | Collection Management by Ian Chant,”Circulation frequently rises after a weeding project, however counter-intuitive that may seem.” Most importantly, managing the collection helps the library manage its space and services. It means that the library can provide a variety of spaces for different types of activities, including collaboration, group meetings and quiet study.

Sustainable collection development means more than weeding the library collection. It includes aging materials out and developing policies that help make sound decisions. Collection Development can be a self study or part of a library services and operations study. According to entrepreneur what Tony Hsieh, “you fail at something, you wonder how all these other people are doing it so effortlessly, but those ups and downs are part of every eventual success story.”

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Library / Project Based Learning Environments

Which vision of the future best describes research libraries in the 21st century? Access or Conservation? Some futurists envision the research library to be a truly digital environment. However, technology has a way of isolating us; the library is also a place for communities of practice. At the core, we know that books and journals print or digital are part of the learning environment. They create opportunities for the library building to be permanent and sustainable.

The research library continues to be a blended environment that includes printed materials. In most cases, a place for learning and a repository of books and journals which support academic discourse and preservation/conservation activities. However, embracing digital humanities is a growing trend – / digital humanities blogs to watch. The long tail, as first described by Chris Anderson at Wired Magazine, is becoming more and more find-able in the digital world. It is now possible for research libraries to be teaching centers to help navigate scholarly information published all over the world.

By gaining a thorough understanding of what it takes to be dynamic learning environment, the library must be configured for project based learning activities. The library can show a better return on investment for digital knowledge resources by offering different types of learning spaces.

According to Michael Stevens / tame the web – “The way that many young people are using information technologies is changing the way the world works….” To respond to changing student use of technology we are programming media walls and/or large plasma/LED installations into libraries. Our programming methods incorporate new types of interactive media that responds to how student use technology. The set ups help the student navigate information technology in the physical library.

The culture we’ve tried to build at Aaron Cohen Associates emphasizes being strategic and respectful. If we want our libraries to emphasize project based learning, than we have to respect new ways of working in the library environment.
Library Space Planning Diagram

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Innovation at the Library 2016

ACA Purpose DiagramForeseeing trends in the future for the next ten to twenty years in library services is hard to do. The fact that, by some accident, some of us happen to work in library assessment does not mean we have a better crystal ball than anybody else. Your best guess about what might happen at a local library or an academic research center in the future is as good as anybody else’s.

According to “Rebirth Of The Library” libraries are evolving to support civic engagement. For example, Brett Bonfield, Director of the Collingswood Public Library stated that free wi-fi and a high top table is great to connect to the internet. The library is a place that creates an active community and helps people do their work. The podcast suggests that we need to improve well-being for Americans; provide places for people learn – by conversation or by practicing and by participating and doing. Indeed the library is a place for civic engagement.

If you are planning a library or improving the one you have, its important to recognize changes in our society, technology, building and services. For example, back in the 2000’s we witnessed the growing use of smart phones in libraries and the use of computers in the library. In fact, 99% of libraries now have some type internet access.

We continue to develop new types of library services to enable project based learning and collaboration as well as individual / reflective activities. We believe the library is an enabling instrument for the community or campus. It is an instrument that makes it possible for people to do what is so basic to our culture to share resources and learn from them.

At the Sacramento Public Library they are focusing on the library of things. This idea goes back as far as the very beginning of recorded history on our planet. We might think that the phenomenon of information sharing and collaboration as new. Some of our libraries contain the ancient notched sticks used to record information. They have special items that can be used for research and exploration. According to Library of Things: Bringing borrowing shops to the UK | #LoT – The library of things is a trend to watch in 2016 – people dedicated to a shared world. So, are libraries about the future? You bet, the French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery once observed: “As for the future, your task is not to foresee but to enable.”

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Best Libraries in the World

ACA (www.acohen.com) has spent more than 40 years studying libraries, developing user experiences and library services. We are now seeing a significant shift in space and service planning strategies, from primarily book based institutions to a blend of digital and print services.

Sometimes its good to get a perspective of other libraries to enhance your building project. Across library world, civic leaders, librarians and educators are helping us design and refine the communities needs.

Take a tour of some of the best libraries in the world: http://blog.uniplaces.com/en/25-best-university-libraries-in-the-world/

Below is the next generation library we are developing with ACG in Dubai.

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Review and Renew to keep your Library Thriving

Our clients seek us out because, as library consultants, we offer a straightforward process geared specifically for libraries. For example, how does one develop a library “from scratch?” What services and space planning concepts should be used? What are the steps in developing the library’s goals, objectives and strategies?

Our assessments can help create the next generation library and/or learning space, and we have helped countless librarians and archivists develop and enhance their services. Sometimes, the library staff needs to understand and measure the print and archive collection(s), examining different storage solutions. Other times, the library needs a library building program (ex. learning commons, reference areas, campus innovation centers, etc.); sometimes the learning organization needs a complete rethink. We do it all.

Our research suggests that a thriving learning organization continually identifies and measures library services to stay current. We use a balanced scorecard approach; our research utilizes ethnographic assessment techniques and idea-generating workshops to help create energy for change. For example, we share prototype ideas and facilitate webinars that explore user behavior. We integrate the latest library information systems: our wealth of technology and hardware knowledge helps our clients shape the learning organizations of the future.

Another area of exploration is the Makerspace; these creative spaces are a  place where the community can create, invent, and learn. Before considering the development of a MakerSpace in your library, archive or museum, consider a library services and operations plan to clarify your needs and vision.

Librarian’s Guide to Makerspaces can be used to develop a self assessment and start developing your learning organization. The Library Journal’s July 2015 article on Makerspaces illustrates how communities are adapting to the MakerSpace movement. Libraries are reaching new customers: people interested in knowledge sharing and 3D printing; book printing; creating plastic items; robots; and IT networking technology. For example, the IdeaLAB, Hive @ central, Maker Jawn and The Bubbler are examples cited in this article. Each of these MakerSpaces illustrate the variety of options available to consider in the learning organization.

Are you considering new strategies for your learning organization? Contact Aaron Cohen Associates.

Below is a picture from our work with the Hillsborough County Public Library/John F. Germany Planning Project

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The Library as Learning Organization

Developing the library as a learning organization is a steady trend in both academic and public libraries. Certainly, there is a need for a new leadership approach that will create an adaptable, balanced structure. According to Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline, “Ultimately, leaders intent on building shared visions must be willing to continually share their personal visions.” ACA is working on a number of projects where success is created by the successful: they are making a conscious choice to achieve greater balance with a learning-organization approach.

The development of such an organization requires staff to focus on building a shared vision.  We work with the staff to gain structured feedback. We might discuss how the library is expected to provide digital services, user space and print collections. We ask questions, such as: is it really the library’s vision to defend manual processing? Like other organizations, the development of a learning organization needs to be well coordinated.

The learning organization requires continuous investment in manpower, space, coordination and fundraising. It needs to be both adaptable and locally controlled. The focus must be on improving the quality of the user experience, while examining future trends. For example, how do young adults use technology? Pew Research indicates that 98% of “millenials”  use the Internet : Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015 . Three fourths (77%) have a smartphone and tablet (38%) or e-reader (24%) Additionally, 79% of Millennials believe that people without internet access are at a real disadvantage.

Yet, they know that important information is not always available online.

According to Pew, “62% of Americans under age 30 agree there is “a lot of useful, important information that is not available on the internet,” compared with 53% of older Americans who believe that. Therefore, the library still has an important role to play in both the digital and print worlds.

Together, we can build better learning organizations and avoid the “negative spiral” that stems from a lack of direction. Start a planning study to develop a sharing culture in your academic or public library community.

Library Consultant Predictive Model

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Collection Preservation in the Digital World

In today’s changing world,  library collection and preservation services need to be adaptable to the current user’s needs. Consider the library with valuable space on campus or downtown: should they use that space for valuable books and materials? Or keep it more open with tech and Wi-Fi access?

An outdated customer experience and disengaged employees can quickly make a library seem irrelevant. When collection and service  strategies lose focus,  funding pressure arises…and libraries fall under attack. Some “hotspots” are easy to see: passive collection spaces quickly look like good candidates to be taken over by administrators to make room for faculty or IT.

But what if that space could be repurposed for project-based work areas? Maybe a new Makerspace or learning commons that includes adaptable, flexible display areas and collaborative seating. This insight lead Aaron Cohen Associates /Library Consultant to a new concept, a library space program that focuses on new strategies and configurations for conservation and access.

The ALCTS Preservation Showdown at the American Library Association (ALA), moderated by Annie Peterson (Preservation Librarian, Tulane University), illustrated the strategic challenges facing library collections and their caretakers. The program invited librarians from esteemed institutions, including Harvard and Johns Hopkins, to participate. Two teams went head-to-head in a debate format on the following topic:

“Funding to support access to rare book and manuscripts collections should be entirely dedicated to digitization, not to conservation treatment of original artifacts.”

The reaction from the audience and the participants was fascinating. It illustrated that library bottlenecks arise when we do not balance preservation with digital access to collections. Debate participants’ statements were indeed logical; however, the discussion also brought out emotional responses that showed the severe shortage of collection development solutions associated with library funding.

Our Library Architecture project work is also about access and conservation. Below is a visual of the conceptual process by Renzo Piano building workshop for the new National Library of Greece. The process engaged both the needs for conservation and access to historic and important literature.

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Labyrinth in the Library

According to the Orchestrator Model, the library’s service plan can be orchestrated with “think”, “feel” and “do” strategies. The development of a building program helps the library staff “think” about the architecture and service model. The strategic plan helps the library’s leadership “feel” or define the types of interactions needed in a 21st century learning environment.

In Matt Cook and Janet Brennan Croft’s “Interactive Mindfulness Technology,” we learn that 40% to 80% of the students researched bring their own devises to the academic library. Students are using the library on their own terms; they find the space that best matches their needs. Usually, they sit close to power. It is obvious we need strategies to orchestrate the library’s services and operations better.

Many older libraries are built like a labyrinth. They are confusing buildings with corridors that lead to dead-ends. This puts further strain on the library’s finances, because an old and out dated building doesn’t attract investment.

Our interpretation of the Orchestrator model is that the building program or library space plan should be part of the library’s “do” strategy. Start by analyzing the labyrinth of pathways through the library. Try to use evidence based planning or leadership techniques that can be used with the Visual Scan. This is a facilitated tour of the library space with focus groups, asking them how to improve the library.

Other “do” strategies include a services and operations analysis; a study that defines the library’s service priorities. This could include service strategies such as program/event development, volunteer efforts, improving the usability of circulation services, web and social media projects.

We have been looking at the proportionality of spaces. For example, the golden ratio to help us understand how to open up libraries and remove the Maze-like affects. We believe the gold ratio provides some clues on how to provide the correct proportion for the service desk, collection areas, seating and staff / processing functions.

Take a look at the model below and start to think about the new types of interactions possible. Do you have a plan to get the proportions of your library right? Get your staff together to “think” about the potential outcomes of programming the library of the future.

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