Vision Lab: Single Purpose Education Buildings are Out

In the education world, libraries are ready to become part of the learning experience. Colleges are trimming the space for open shelving and providing more space for reflective, collaborative and group project-based work. The space and storage requirements are not going away, which requires careful planning and adjustments to the program.

The functions of libraries are clarified at Aaron Cohen Associates, especially at schools where the line of demarcation between social gathering spaces and serious work cause friction. During a recent library planning project, we looked at converting existing book stacks to accommodate interdisciplinary space to enable more scholarly research across all fields. We focused on data visualization and the need to accommodate to different types of learning behaviors.

The Future Library / Vision Lab Concept is visualized in ‘The Contingency of a Pinball Machine‘ – In Tech Trends 21, the pinball is a visual metaphor of the user who is launched through innovation onto the playing board, with the ball representing value for all of scholarly communications, including researchers, libraries, and publishers.

“The flippers that keep the ball in play are Human and AI assisted technologies that support the value chain process. Additional support propelling the ball is provided by institutions, both libraries and other institutional support infrastructures, as well as funding organizations.”

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The Accessible, Sustainable, and Reusable Research Space


A Library is a place to utilize various forms of learning tools including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), 3D printing and makerspace / hackable zones. The idea is to enhance digital thinking, and the curricula of the educational system. Modern learning environments are generally designed around behavior i.e. ACA’s five learning modes (collaborative, group, presentation, reflective and meeting point). However, we now see digital thinking as a mode to explore.

Digital thinking is an essential intellectual process in the post-industrial age. No longer is it necessary to travel to specific places to work with colleagues, or to find and then peruse important material. Computerization and the Internet enables us to draw ideas and skills from individuals situated in any time zone, anywhere in the world, or to tap into libraries of databases that have the information we seek. In education, digital thinking enables students, faculty and administrators to connect with colleagues or with one another, wherever they are — or to find the information they need at any time day or night.

Our library service and operations assessments include round table discussions with business partners and target user(s) to develop such environments. We try to understand how to make the service more accessible, sustainable, and usable. We ask questions to understand the researchers priorities. For example:

  • What kinds of services does your research environment provide?
  • How is the collection used to support your research community?
  • Does the library provide a flexible environment?
  • What are the compromises you must make because you don’t have a research space planning strategy?
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    Library Functions in an Accelerated World

    In an age of constant acceleration, Thomas Friedman is a Futurist who sees radical changes in our information landscape. In his book, Thank you for Being Late, he suggests that we need to empower innovation to establish radically disruptive new business models.

    Our research shows that libraries need to be updated faster. They should provide services that are fast, free, easy to use, and ubiquitous. Indeed, library technology needs to move from the 2007 model of “invisible services” to those that are visible and allow for collaboration and sharing. This means that the next generation of librarians will provide access to both physical and digital platforms. Both require information architecture to support modern day users with business analysis, teaching and learning, and lifelong learning pursuits.

    Throughout our 45 year history, our Library Consultant has stressed that planning should be forward-thinking. Today, we are trying to understand how the library can function in an accelerated world. What will this look like? What are the decisions to make that ensure the library will evolve and grow?

    Our group of librarians, IT professionals and architectural planners help our clients examine and redefine a library’s staff, collections and user space. To help clarify these concepts, Aaron Cohen built our consulting firm on the notion that we must prototype (what is a good library?) first and compare our ideas with the local user requirements. Our ability to define collection conditions at other libraries make this exercise worthwhile to our clients. We learn from our past ideas and build new types of library services in response to our rapidly changing world.

    A recent example of this analysis: we reviewed the impact of IBM Watson developer cloud & EEG signaling technology to learn how to extend library services into the data-enhanced AI world. These new types of libraries will help corporations use their databases with APIs to improve marketing, finance and sales. These new types of digital library services will use technology to help businesses understand the data they collect and learn how to use it; they will require both collection development and staff development to make them work. Contact us—we can help!

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    The Plausibility of a Virtual Library Concept

    Mobile devices once represented a “new frontier” in library service, offering more access and connectivity than ever before. Today, Virtual Reality (VR) applications represent the next wave in libraries. Motion-controlled technology will enable us to step into another world, no longer tethered only to the physical library space. Users will no longer be spectators but participants in the virtual library.

    This new technology offers exciting opportunities for knowledge management applications. For example, Kevin He, founder of Midas Touch, is developing physics-based animation games that incorporate real-world movements with the screen view. In the future, the availability of headsets will make it possible for library users to experience different worlds.

    VR technology growth is an indicator that things are changing in the research landscape: academic librarians and/or provosts looking to enhance research experiences need to pay attention this topic. Investment in a VR space will enable institutions to offer more value to students; these spaces and technology programs can further enhance student success. For example, a VR program might provide an enhanced experience such as being at the Grand Canyon, adding a new way for students to use information.
    Library planning for VR

    Planning these spaces will require new program ideas with a flexible library design. This isn’t about individual learning; virtual reality library will be a group space. Additionally, we will need programs and designs that offer safeguards for the distracted. Incorporating this new technology will require a library program that will help drive collaboration, knowledge and innovation in order to meet the needs of tomorrow.

    The five P’s–purpose, place, people, programs, and partnership–are a starting point for the library staff and knowledge management business teams. They will need to research how to blend library services in both physical and virtual worlds. They will need to offer cultural and educational experiences in both physical and virtual learning environments. VR technology has the potential to drive innovation, enabling research to happen all in one room or space. ACA can help libraries determine the hardware, software and spatial requirements for the virtual reality library.

    Below is a picture of Project Morpheus for PS4

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    The Analog Library and Architecture that Heals

    The library building, once a fortress for knowledge, is ready to undertake a renaissance and change for the better. There’s no question that we’re living in a digital age, but in the “The Revenge of the Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter,” David Sax tells the stories of businesses that have found a market selling “vintage” items like paper notebooks, records and stationery. Recently, we found that libraries are having the same renewed interest. Especially, during their book sales and public events.

    The PBS recording between WNYC Leonard Lopate and Author David Sax. includes a conversation about the renewed interest analog items. We can validate this notion from our experiences in the library world. During the interview, the author discusses the limited appeal of the purely digital life and the need to have books. Interestingly, we find this opportunity at every library we visit. So, the margin of success is obvious – community libraries and sharing local analog content distinguishes itself from the digital experience.

    A better library building and service, flexible in a sense that the library has inspiring spaces, is perpetual. The need for more storage of books and materials is becoming reality with technology. Even in the small town we need to create jobs, get our services locally and create spaces that enhance our community.

    We can learn from lessons from around the world to help us. For example, Michael Murphy (architect) provides an inspiring TED talk about how we can create a better world through architecture. He says that low fab techniques such as sourcing locally and giving people the dignity and role to play in the development of a hospital will get better results. We can see many similarities between his talk and the work we do at Aaron Cohen Associates, LTD

    You may see the Michael Murphy TED Talk – Architecture that Heals

    Below is a graphic we developed to understand the difference between library space planning, technology and design. The world is not a binary thing – we need to be able to experience our libraries and learning environments as shared environments for growth.

    analytics_-diagram

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    6 ways to improve your learning environment: NYC Workshop, Nov 3

    In preparation for our Smart Library Workshop (November 3, 2016, 9:30 am-4 pm), we outlined six steps toward improving your library & learning environment. Many libraries and learning spaces require new space/service requirements, as today’s patrons use both print and digital resources. Enabling the learning space to be flexible – so light, air and vista permeates the whole space with a sense of unity is possible with the right methodology. Below, six simple ways to make change happen:

    1. Have a dialogue with stakeholders about the library/learning space. Allowing all parties to “have a say” is a vital part of this process. We utilize data-gathering exercises that allow input into the process. We also employ the Visual Scan, a facilitated tour, to understand user needs and staff perspective.

    2. Create a communication plan. No longer a “nice to have” amenity, such a plan enables staff to develop policies essential to improve reference / customer service requirements.

    3. Develop a library building program that will detail learning spaces, partners and services. Libraries should inspire partnerships, programs, events; how do we create collaboration space?  The building program should outline existing services as well as potential new library services and space options.

    4. Visualize the physical learning space. Physical constraints are always a long-term challenge. Successful organizations often find themselves “squeezed” when demand outweighs space. Visualizing preservation, conservation and technical services office space differently to harmonize all necessary openings with good human proportions is required. Hire a library consultant and architect to ensure that physical constraints are documented and analyzed.

    5. Consider design scenarios for long-term success. Changes to library/learning spaces can be expensive, depending on the solution. Often, a challenge to the library’s existing services can lead to an inexpensive solution. We work with stakeholders to do re-envisioning exercises that help them understand what the library/learning space has to offer and what might be changed.

    6. Build consensus with help from professionals who are experienced in library design. Recommendations are most effective when all stakeholders contribute to the master plan. Staff members need to understand the logic of the plan, efficiencies gained and future-oriented thinking involved. The staff need to own the implementation plan; they need a role developing strategies to improve the outcome.

    workshop-21016-nov3_15

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    Value of Academic and Research Libraries

    What is the value of the library?

    Learning spaces need to be positioned to provide access, skill development and the right context for learning to grow. Come join us on Thursday, November 3, 2016 at Steelcase NYC to learn how to develop highly integrated learning spaces.

    Click Here

    Modern research libraries perform a number of critical functions: they provide space and tools for learning. The library’s capacity to drive opportunity and success in today’s knowledge-based economy requires proven methods for programming library services and operations. Whether it is change across all facets of the research organization; academic libraries have the potential to greatly impact education and learning. The library’s fundamental people, place and platforms are core to its mission.

    mary-idema-pew-library

    Reasons for Libraries
    1. Libraries offer a buffer between work space and home space
    2. They create social capital through group and collaborative learning
    3. They provide access to research materials
    4. They provide spaces that support all content formats

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    Libraries – Measuring the Future

    At a functional level, the basic concept of library is not antiquated. The library space remains vital and important in the context of a learning model. We have a lot to learn about the use of the library and the behavior of the patrons. It is time to use simple technology to measure the library building; use this information to improve services.

    The language of library spaces and collections is traditionally tied to a paper, emphasizing physical qualities over functional characteristics. The challenge is to articulate the essential characteristics of the library space in terms that make sense for today’s user. We are developing library programs based on new data, measuring the learning environment in innovative ways.

    ACA has the capabilities to provide Google-Analytics-style dashboards for our library projects. We can help you analyze library building: movement of patons, number of visits, what patrons browsed, what parts of the library were busy during which parts of the day, and more.

    If you are a librarian that is on a limited budget, check out “Measure the Future” – they are developing crowd sourcing bots to support libraries that want to asses their space. They are creating simple and inexpensive sensors that can collect data about building usage that is now invisible. The pilot programs can be replicated at your library with students from the local scout club.

    Aaron Cohen Associates, LTD is striving to provide strategic design solutions. We help libraries and librarians make strategic decisions that create more efficient and effective experiences for their patrons. Contact ACA if you have a library service planning or space assessment project

    5 Modes of Learning

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    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…

    2016-04-20 09.52.562016-04-20 12.17.07

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