Posts Tagged Library Space Planning

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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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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The Library; long lived and adaptable

As libraries come to understand their need for collections, they must recognize that the book can be in many different formats. In a recent article by the Economist, the transformation of the book is taking off. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers – book and e-book research, consumer book sales was 15.1 billions dollars in 2009.

In the past, the majority of book sales were in print. PriceWaterhouseCoopers predict by 2018; 7.9B will be sold in print and 8.7B will be sold in e-book sales/equivalent. The prediction means that we will be living with books and e-books for a long time.

The book is a really competitive technology – it is portable, hard to break, has high resolution pages and as Russell Grandinetti from Amazon stated; a “long battery life”.

We believe that books are part of an ecosystem of library spaces. They require strategic space planning to determine how to distribute technology, collections, seating and staff.

Our studies show that the most successful library environments provide a range of spaces. Spaces can be planned to manage distraction; take a break, etc. Libraries can be flexible with adaptive interiors that can respond easily to dynamic operational and technological requirements.

What does it take to develop a high quality library that meets or exceeds “best practices” – what are some best practices?

Below is a recent sketch from Aaron Cohen – ACA’s Seating Best Practices:


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Education is Changing – Libraries Enhance Learning Support

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.

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Visualizing the Library of the Future

NC State developed a wonderful video for their new library project. The video shows all of the different programmatic components required for a modern academic library including socializing, preservation and late night study.

Librarians can develop a proactive position when facing the future. Review this video to reflect and visualize the types of interactions and technology that can be in a library.

In a world of homogenized choices, the library can be the space where your community can feel truly fulfilled in their quest for knowledge, enlightenment, entertainment and connection to others.

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Mentoring in the Library Incubator

The library is a place where you can organize a form in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. It is a place where you can engage in discussions and catch up on current information. It is an incubator for students as they grow and mature.

Mentoring is when you take the time to hear about peoples experiences. It is when there is a common place to join in the discussion, start a new interest or relax. The social atmosphere allows participants to share experiences, reducing the confusion around doing research.

The incubator concept benefits educators and librarians, tapping into the reality that a place can be really helpful. The librarians facilitation; so much more than mentoring is happening. It is extremely important to start to visualize the paradigm shift. We can gather insight by sharing personal perspectives on how libraries provide information access. library_mentoring_example


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the language of library space

A recent article from Inside Higher Education focuses on the need to balance quiet and active spaces in the library. Project Information Literacy study found that students minimize technology use and try to unplug from their overly distracting social networks when working on projects or studying for exams.

During our library planning studies, we have found that all libraries need environments that allow for social, group and individual study. The library plan should include:

  • active space – information commons, learning commons, group collaboration, etc.
  • quiet space – contemplative space for study.
  • According to “The Future of the Academic Library Symposium: Bridging the Gap, Libraries – “need to be in a state of perpetual beta to effect change.” We believe libraries need to experiment with both quiet and active space.

    The University of North Carolina started a Journal of Learning Spaces that is a good place to start an analysis of library space needs. We recommend the journal as a starting point for discussion.

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    Kindle Lending Library – (e-book) Learning Environment

    Amazon will transform 11,000 library environments with Overdrive. On April 20, 2011, Amazon and Kindle e-reader will work with libraries to provide downloadable e-books. The Kindle library lending feature will debut later this year. Indeed, more than 11,000 US public libraries will have easy access to e-books. This will create new opportunities to transform the library into a learning environment.

    In the future, we will see more spaces that provide plug-play technology. We will see libraries with more seats and less collection shelving. The library will strive to be a social space in this new environment. This will increase access to library content and generate communities of practice. Libraries will need space to integrated information literacy programs and offer scholarly aggregation tools.

    Watch out – the e-book Overdrive / Kindle is the first out of the gate to transform the way we read at the library.

    technical services for books - what about ebooks?

    technical services for books - what about ebooks?

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    Future Libraries and Learning Systems

    Steelcase Collaborative workarea

    Steelcase Collaborative workarea

    During our workshop at Steelcase on November 9, 2010, we researched different types of learning spaces. This picture is from the Steelcase worklife building in NYC. It is a good place to experience new types learning spaces to aid in the design of future orientated libraries.

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    Books, Books and Ebooks – Library Space Planning

    When books were developed by Dutch printers in 1471 they transformed Medieval Life by enabling the distribution of information. Now, consider when paperback books transformed life in the 1960’s and the first penguin books arrived. They were a great invention for the public and much easier to handle while traveling. They were durable and portable for kids to use. They also lowered the cost of literacy so that anyone could have a copy of a best seller or a classic if they wanted.

    We are at the edge of a transformation in learning technology and the space requirements to support it. The ebook reader has arrived with a user interface that adds tools to the experience; highlighting, wireless sharing and new requirements for library space. The experience is still at its infancy and only a portion of the population has made the conversion. However, just take a look around at the airport. Many people still use books, but others are already on the hyper-literacy highway. They are traveling at breakneck speeds with new apps designed by developers to enhance the experience.

    The ebook is a technology that can bring the book alive. Just look at the additional tools placed on the IPAD. Its ability to be a dynamic wi-if computer or read maps, make notes, play games and puzzles. In the future, there will be more integration with the spatial environment too. For example, library spaces can incorporate (QR) codes, barcodes that, when you take a photo of them with your smartphone, will take you out of the book or item to different websites. It will literally show you additional examples of research or reading on the subject.

    Reading is a text based skill and it’s not going away anytime soon. In fact, in most cases a book would work better then a web site. However, publishers need to develop new ways to get readers to buy their books. They need to sell paperback books at a low price, but the real profit will be when they don’t have to spend any natural resources to make the product. When its digital. Paperback books are an inexpensive way to sell information. However, we need to realize that the momentum is being generated by technology companies and publishers that are trying to create new and repeat customer.

    For these reasons, we have to focus on the library as a space for books both print and digital. We know the ebook will arrive in greater numbers. That is why we are confident that flexible spaces for leaning needs are available for both. From a collection point of view, we need to make sure we have a repository that supports learning for the long term. However, we can not let the past drive the future of reading and learning. The technology has been let out of the box on a large scale.

    To explain how the ebook experience will change the future library we need to continue to read this story. When we see people going from just reading a story into an exploration of a multitude tools and apps that enable sharing we know that library space needs to change. We know that it needs to reflect a new customer, armed with a portal of knowledge under their arm.

    The library’s space will be design to allow the users to explore both the individual experiences and collaborative learning. It will be a place that allows you to immerse yourself in a book, but which one will it be? How will this new form of reading to take place without book stacks? And how will this change our use of the library as place?

    Further Reading:
    Scholarly Information Practices in the Online Environment: Themes from the Literature and Implications for Library Service Development. Report commissioned by OCLC Research. Published online at:

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