• Library Planning Research,  Space Planning,  work in progress

    Look to “Learning Modes” to Guide Library Design

    Over the last 25 years, research has shown that the right environment can transform the way a student learns and retains information. According to Rob Abel, Malcolm Brown, Jack Suess – “In higher education, we are entering a period in which it is the connections between everything and everyone that are of importance…A connected learning environment offers new ways to connect things that were previously considered disparate and “un-connectable”: people, resources, experiences, diverse content, and communities, as well as experts and novices, formal and informal modes, mentors and advisors.”

    ACA developed the Five Modes of Learning to help create these connected learning environments. We approach a project by recognizing the diverse ways that students learn; our studio strives to create library environments that will enhance their experience.

    Aaron Cohen Associates’ Five Modes of Learning are:

    • Touchpoint
    • Collaboration
    • Reflective
    • Social
    • Presentation


    Touch point
    The touchpoint should be the first point of contact in the library. It is a place for casual contact and interactions; it is also a place where a student can interact with the collection. A touchpoint is located in an open environment, with students able to use it independently or ask a librarian.

    A typical touchpoint could be the circulation desk or help desk—but these spaces can become much more than a place to check out materials. There has been a shift in Library services from a fixed stationary point to a mobile series of help hotspots. Or, a touchscreen can be a self-directed, informal learning portal.

    The collaborative learning mode enables dialogue between people who come together to explore new possibilities and challenging problems. It becomes a place for students to share ideas and information as they work together, or spontaneously with others nearby. It offers a way to connect people who might otherwise not have the opportunity to interact. Collaborative areas must offer flexible seating arrangements and access to power.

    Even as technology changes and data-access increases, students still need a quiet space to work. The reflective learning mode refers to a typical “study” environment: it is a personal space that is conducive to quiet study and reflection. Understanding human behavior is an important aspect of reflective learning environments. Many students will look for a place to concentrate and focus intently on their work.

    A social space is somewhat self-explanatory, but essential to a successful library design. It is a conversation area where it is acceptable—even expected—to have more noise, possibly food, and a place where students can unwind or even work in an informal environment. A library café is a good example of a social learning space.

    University students often need a space to do practice presentations or be part of a group in which one person is speaking to all. Semi-enclosed or enclosed areas provide a good environment for the presentation learning mode.

    Covering all the “Five Modes of Learning” enables a library or learning center to offer the perfect mix of design and functionality. By keeping learning modes in mind during the planning process, a library truly can serve every student’s needs.


  • Library Planning Research,  Space Planning,  work in progress

    The Impact Assessment: A Powerful Tool

    Library impact assessments can be self-studies. They can come in one, two or 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. This holistic approach can detect 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 by creating 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. In other words, they need to strive for a sustainable and functional competitive advantage.

    Today, the staffs of successful academic libraries, and the educational organizations to which they report, must identify and quickly respond to transitory competitive advantages. They must then move on to the next short-lived technological and market upgrades. The library staff must be open to constantly learning and adopting new services—because environments are in persistent states of flux.

    Elaine Cohen suggests, “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. This means that a good predictive model needs to produce a deep and durable impact assessment that both guides and accelerates an holistic approach to overseeing library services and spaces.”


  • Library Planning Research

    As the Virtual Becomes Ever-More Reality, Libraries Reap the Benefits

    Although the circulation of books, media and other materials has dropped precipitously at the majority of libraries, many of them still feature large, outmoded circulation desks. Thus, while service functions have changed, physical spaces in the library have not. It is time to create designs that increase collection collisions, either with physical books or interactive collaborative spaces.

    Libraries can sometimes seem frozen in time, with a too-slow transition from passive, fixed features to mobile service modules. Today, in addition to mobile stations, patrons can check items in and out via their mobile devices. A smaller circulation area enables the redesign of the library spaces: from a relatively passive corridor to an active space; from a static area to a robust environment.

    Soon we will be immersed in service designed to maximize digital literacy. For example, library staff of the future may use Google Glass-like “eyewear” to serve patrons better;  Luxotica is working on the second version of Google Glass. CEO Massimo Vian confirmed that they have a partnership with Google to develop a phase 2 version.

    We are planning libraries that will take advantage of burgeoning virtual and hologram technology. The library service desks will be equipped with touch screens and spaces for connected librarians to share collections. We are beginning to develop ideas with mobile tools that will enhance staff capabilities. IT tools can support knowledge and information exchanges, using smart library setups.

    In the near future,the library service desk/touch point will incorporate the cloud and mobile technology in new ways. For example, Microsoft developed the Hololense project recently. This product includes a headset that enhances the physical world. These ongoing innovations will surely reach the library. The opportunities for enhancing service via visual computing are endless–a holodeck was once only fiction, but could conceivably be part of the library of the future one day.

    Below is a planning model from our library program planning archives