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We are often asked “what are the best libraries in the world?” This is a difficult question to answer, because libraries must be both beautiful and functional. An attractive space is only part of the equation; a library must also offer essential services. Conversely, a library may have great services and still need to improve their physical environment. This is why library design is a challenge for any architectural team.
We have been studying the dynamics of beautiful libraries for many years, with input from librarians and architects. For example, the library building awards by LLAMA is a good place to familiarize yourself with libraries that stand out. You may also inform LLAMA of projects that you think are worthwhile.
There are many elements that need to be defined in order to develop a balanced and beautiful library environment. Below are links to some examples of library design; they are a source of inspiration for us, aiding the design process for our clients.
LINKS TO BEAUTIFUL LIBRARIES
Architectural Digest – The most spectacular libraries around the world
Business Insider – The most beautiful new library buildings in America
Library impact assessments can be self-studies. They can come in three forms: Lib Quals (created by the Association of Research Libraries), visual scans and/or environmental scans. A visual scan is an observational assessment of the interior of the library facility. An environmental scan observes the internal and external physical and social environments. It is an holistic approach for detecting signs of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). It promises to influence current and future strategic plans.
Our company, Aaron Cohen Associates (ACA), has developed an in-depth predictive model for library services and spaces. As a basic strategy, we have created an impact assessment that combines the best of the visual and environmental scans. We believe this is an important strategy for our academic library clients. They need to extract maximum value from their environment to maintain a competitive advantage.
In today’s technological environment, the staffs of successful academic libraries—and the educational structures to which they report—must identify and quickly respond to transitory competitive advantages, and move on to the next short-lived technological and market upgrades. Their staffs must be open to learning and adopting new behaviors constantly as their information and educational environments are in persistent states of flux.
An organization cannot survive with a minimalist approach to the future. Instead it needs basic strategies that produce sustained changes in behavior and robust improvements in performance. All this means that a good predictive model needs to produce a deep and durable impact assessment that both guides and accelerates a holistic approach to overseeing library services and spaces.
PREDICTIVE MODEL FOR LIBRARY PLANNING
The library is operating in a very different world today. Technology is constantly evolving within an environment that is increasingly smart, flexible and mobile. Though so much is available on the web, a huge amount of historical content remains un-digitized and hidden. The library of tomorrow should be a public campus that will grow the world’s knowledge base while still providing access to non-digital resources. It will be responsive to changing cultural and digital needs, providing opportunities for dynamic collaboration.
According to the Horizon Report 2015, “the Lean Startup movement uses technology as a catalyst for promoting a culture of innovation in a more widespread, cost-effective manner, and provides compelling models” for library leaders and higher-education planners to consider.” The future library needs to favor experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design upfront” development (see HBR Article by Steve Blank).
Tomorrow’s users will connect to the public campus on the go: For example, pedestrians will receive “pushed” information from Bluetooth i-beacons near the library, and students will be able to access the cloud for school projects.
It is time to start developing the next generation libraries, enabling the community to benefit from a variety of knowledge resources. Through an integrated customer service model and tiered support services, the next generation library can enrich the cultural life of a campus, town, city and a nation.
The newest frontier in library service is the development of a MakerSpace, which can include access to 3D technology. Mick Ebeling at Not Impossible Labs provides an inspiring example of how 3D printers can make a difference in the world.
Why should the Library offer a MakerSpace environment? According to Mick, its time to start planning for the impossible – the future!
The library is an ideal place to introduce people to 3D technology. By providing computers and software to work on 3D projects, as well as a place to print these new creations, the library can help people step into a new world. They can be the “go-to” place for their students and patrons by enabling them to send the file(s) they want printed. The library will provide a time/cost estimate and print the items for pickup. See 3D rose example
As with any transition, libraries and educators need to be prepared before they offer such a service.There are few things more frustrating to patrons than seeing a service offered that then can’t be delivered! To avoid this, look for 3D printers that don’t require a lot of maintenance, and make sure staff have the technical training to manage the equipment, enabling them to share “making” skills with the community. For example, what will you do if you need to “level the build plate” or get help when the machine gets stuck? Investing in the necessary training for staff is essential; in a digital world, the library staff is actually more important than ever.
The Library MakerSpace will take a lot of work from the community to get started. The library staff will need to develop policies and procedures for MakerSpace services and equipment. For example, if you want to allow people use to hands-on tools you will need to provide space to work and a reasonable length of time to do so. This requires user policies, plans for time limits, and more.
How does the 3D printer work?
The 3D printer system works like an automated cake maker; cold plastic is loaded into the machine and fed through a tube that is heated. The liquidized plastic is pushed through a tube like a decorator that writes “happy birthday” on a cake. This is a simplistic description that can be expanded to incorporate metal, wood and biodegradable plastic printing.
The costs for entry into 3D library makerspaces is roughly $1,500 to $2,500 depending on the Makerbot Replicator. It comes with software that makes it possible to develop objects. Other manufacturers are Polyprinter and Lulzbot Mini. In addition, Lulzbot and Cura is a good hardware / software combination. Download Cura – free 3D software.
Software is an important part of the 3D printing experience. AutoCAD works very well with the 3D printer. However, there are other open source options – Meshmixer, Tinkercad, Cura and/or AutoDesk 123D. This software needs to be intuitive and easy to work with and designed specifically to produce 3D-printable model files.
Once your library is also a makerspace, you may be able to connect your library to other MakerSpaces. Go to Skyforge and check out this service; it links all of the 3D printers together.
At colleges across the county, there are many students and teachers who feel as if they are part of a nomadic tribe rather than being an integrated part of the academic community. Reflecting on the current state of higher education, this is especially true for non-traditional students and adjunct faculty members. Like many other nomadic people, non-traditional students and adjuncts do not have a continual space to call their own and, more often than not, they have to adapt to infertile climates and move on in order to subsist.
We believe it is time for the academic library to embrace non-traditional students and adjunct faculty to support collaborative work. For example, adjunct faculty are increasingly responsible for a majority of courses taught at community colleges in the United States. They teach non-traditional students who also need space to build skills for new jobs and careers. Together these groups represent a growing need for higher learning space.
According to a recent report created by the Center for Community College Student Engagement: “Colleges depend on part-time faculty to educate more than half of their students, yet they do not fully embrace these faculty members. Because of this disconnect, contingency can have consequences that negatively affect student engagement and learning.” Indeed, the academic library provides a space for non-traditional learners, as well as adjunct faculty and researchers who can use these new types of makerspaces for specialty knowledge building.
As a crucial part of sustaining the economic stability of universities across the county, and community college libraries in particular, the nomadic existence that non-traditional students. adjuncts, and many other types of researchers, experience is problematic. We see the big issues with this current system as being primarily two-fold:
- How is this system affecting student learning and retention?
- How is this system affecting expectations and best practice for higher education?
Without space, time and incentive, oftentimes the relationship between non-traditional students and adjunct faculty is highly transactional. One has to ask: Can libraries offer a solution?
- The academic library provides space for knowledge building activities.
- The academic library provides digital access to electronic resources.
- The academic library provides specialist librarians who offer research assistance.
The library can alleviate some of the strain that affects both adjunct faculty and the students that they teach. Whether it is embedded librarianship, research tutorials, directed learning activities or just being a space where students and faculty can meet face-to-face, the library and librarians are helping to shape the relationship between adjunct faculty and the traditional and non-traditional student population for the better.
The idea that a library can be an incubator space and a place for innovation is something many librarians and educators share. We believe libraries can be learning hubs. They can be developed with a solid understanding of learning space design and library planning measurements. For example, “U.S. Plans Global Network of Free Online Courses,” the US government is going to develop “learning hubs” or incubator libraries.
For Lila Ibrahim, the president of Coursera, “The learning hubs represent a new stage in the evolution of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and address two issues: the lack of reliable Internet access in some countries, and the growing conviction that students do better if they can discuss course materials, and meet at least occasionally with a teacher or facilitator.”
Aaron Cohen Associates, LTD developed five different learning modes that will support the development of the Library as an Incubator or Learning Hubs
1. Develop reflective spaces for focused work
2. Create collaborative spaces that can be facilitated – teacher/tutor/mentor/geek squad/librarian
3. Design social interactions with touch-points
4. Develop program, classroom and presentation spaces to run programs.
In collaboration with Georgia Institute of Technology, we held a workshop on the Library as an Incubator on Oct. 26, 2013. The program explored our unique planning methodology. Our host Charlie Bennett provided examples of how to develop innovation spaces and maker spaces. He will be speaking for the TEDX Telfairstreet and Tinker, Teacher, Maker, Space: Two Co-working Experiments in the Academic Library @ LITA 2013.
Our workshop took us on a Visual Scan tour of the library’s collaboration spaces.
Are there better places to learn on campus or in a community? The library can better serve their community by providing new services and re-vamping existing delivery strategies. According to “where do we go from here? Informing Academic Library Staffing through Reference Transaction Analysis,” mobility, power and technology are changing the way students use the reference desk. In 2010, over 62% percent of undergraduate students owned Internet capable handheld devices.
According to PewInternet, 91% of American adults own a cell phone and many use the devices for much more than phone calls. With the rapid adoption of mobile technologies and advances in all digital resources, libraries need to provide answers to questions wherever we are.
Resource rich environments can be enhanced with touch points that help you navigate to what you need. The library can offer tools that enhances the users ability to operate in the digital cloud. For example, a plan to define the path of travel through the library can be both physical and virtual. There is technology that can react to our needs wherever we are.
Academic libraries are starting to use location based QR codes to support real-time learning activities. Plans that allow users to walk into an area with books or periodicals and connect to the libraries e-resources are being considered. Librarians are developing real-time opportunities for physical and virtual collaboration, providing a platform to support Laphams Quarterly’s art of learning.
Laroi Lawton at Cuny Bronx Community College developed a good starting point for reasons why libraries are important. The list provides some of the reasons that students know and indicate that their library is still relevant, in order of importance:
1. convenient hub
5. resource rich
7. relevant collections
8. distraction free
We see the need for libraries continuing into the future. They provide a unique medium based on a long history of programmable space that encourages individuals to succeed. Libraries are places to learn and promote civilized activities. This personal approach towards helping the library user along with their research is the basis of our culture.
There are a wide variety of new mobile technologies and apps that are changing the way people use information. It is time to accept the handheld librarian as the norm and add them to the art of knowing….Join Us at our workshop on Oct 26th at the Georgia Institute of Technology
It turns out that the noise level in the social “library as place” can be a positive factor in the learning environment. The library can be a social and active place to generate creative ideas as long as the sound level is just right. According to a study, “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition” by the University of British Columbia and the University of Virginia ambient background noise turns out to be an important factor affecting creative cognition among learners. Noise levels at around 70 decibels, equivalent to a passenger car traveling on a highway, enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the likelihood of creative innovation.
Ravi Mehta, Assistant Professor of Business Administration, stated in “Too much, too little noise turns off consumers, creativity” that “a moderate level of noise not only enhances creative problem-solving but also leads to a greater adoption of innovative products in certain settings.” Mehta and co-authors Rui (Juliet) Zhu, of the University of British Columbia, and Amar Cheema, of the University of Virginia, explored how a moderate-level of ambient noise helps create a positive pattern of behavior.
The noise study found that there’s an inverted-U relationship between noise level and creativity. It turns out that around 70 decibels is the sweet spot. If you go beyond that, it’s too loud, and the noise starts to negatively affect creativity. It’s the Goldilocks principle – the middle is just right.
Our planning team works with sound experts to enhance the library / learning commons. We analyze how noise can create positive learning environments. We analyze the impact of sound on the learning environment. For example, our partner Charlie Morrow from Morrow3D sound studies how to integrate noise into international museum exhibitions.
We know that our clients need sound expertise and knowledge during library planning. This expertise in library, learning commons and museum environments is very important when there is not enough square footage for the community. The noise creates a negative friction that hurts the overall life the library and/or learning space, requiring a knowledgeable team to support planning efforts. Spaces that are planned with the high levels of noise (85 decibels), require a solid program and sound management plan.
The Bexar County library will open a prototype digital public library. According to “Paperless Libraries Switch to Digital” – It will have 100 e-readers on loan, and dozens of screens where the public will be able to browse, study, and learn digital skills. However, it’s likely most users will access BiblioTech’s initial holding of 10,000 digital titles anywhere.
The Learning Commons is a library space that the community can use for multipurpose / multi-functional activities. Conceptually, it is a public space that functions as a modern learning environment. A bookless library that offers just e-readers and desktop computers will find out that the “library as place” is the key their success; a motivating seating space that allows people to work collaboratively or individually.
According to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolf in NPR’s “A New Chapter? A Launch Of The Bookless Library – The library is a chance to expand the scope of opportunities for people to learn technology. The world is changing.”
According to an NPR comment by Michael Hale – “For the past 15 years or so, the public library has become as much of a community center as a place to house a collection. It provides computers for those who cannot afford them, which allows them to construct resumes and do daily activities such as banking or renewing their driver’s license.”
Below is a picture from our studio. We are working on understanding how spaces relate to each other in the new learning commons. It is a good example of our visualization process and something that is critical to the development of new types of learning spaces.
Library buildings can be designed to enhance learning support and research. Librarians can support the workflow of their researchers by directly supporting, managing and aggregating the content. These days there are plenty of librarians preaching community, but what about how we can design libraries to enhance the digital world?
Libraries are places where solutions are possible through access to knowledge and higher education. Planning learning environments requires us to be aware of new opportunities in education technology, open-source software or open-access publishing.
According to “Open Online Courses – an avalanche that might just get stopped“- In the US, the growing chorus for online education through massive open online courses, or moocs, has been deafening.” For example, the California legislature created a bill for the “New University of California” – one that offered no instruction but would issue credentials to people merely for passing exams. Does this model assure that our students are learning in the online world?
The New University of California bill did not pass, but California lawmakers detailed a plan on May 8, 2013 to require the state’s 145 public colleges and universities to grant credit for low-cost online courses offered by outside groups, including classes offered by for-profit companies.
The bottom line is that there really is no replacement for face-to-face interaction between teachers, professors, librarians and students. Digital and online methods can enrich those interactions, but it is no match for the community of services at our Universities and Colleges provide; the community of professors, tutors, peer mentors, librarians, IT help, libraries, computers labs, disability services and academic support.
It seems unlikely that libraries and learning spaces can be replaced by online learning without considerable investment in electronic resources. No wonder 72% of those who have taught moocs over the past three years believe students who took their classes had not done sufficient work to deserve credit from their institution.
Libraries and Learning Commons can be created with clusters of valuable and distinctive services. Librarians can ensure that the learning environment, enhances the reputation of the community, faculty and the institution. Librarians will continue to ask – What services does the community need? How can their output be preserved, discovered and re-used?
You can think of the Learning Commons as an incubator. It is an “I-Lab” – a multifunctional and fluid space for learning. The photo below is a visualization board that is at the Mathematics Museum in New York. It is an example of a physical environment that will support online learning technologies.