• Library Planning Research,  Social Library Issues,  work in progress

    Nomads of the Academic Library

    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.




  • Library Planning Research,  library technology

    Ceci n’est pas un Livre (this is not a book)

    “The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well” Walter Benjamin

    Walter Benjamin wrote The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in 1936. The rapid shift toward dynamic, industrialized modernity created a pervasive anxiety among artists and art lovers.  Could art be replaced by machines?  New photographic technology became the catalyst, carrying  fears surrounding visual art and, to some extent, perceptions of reality in of itself. Arguing that, in order for it to remain relevant, there needed to be a shift in how to understand art in a modern context. The themes of authenticity, tradition, ritual, value, mass production and proliferation of art are woven throughout the essay.

    woman_readingIt is not surprising that similar conversations are occurring now surrounding the migration of the library’s print collections to digital platforms. Incorporating technology, “the machine,” into the library space is often viewed as being disruptive, inauthentic and contrary to the original intention of the 20th century library.

    We are finding that these same themes brought forth by Benjamin in 1936 are entering our research process. How do we manage traditions and ritualistic expectations of library patrons? What is the value of the digital library? How do we connect technology with existing collections?

    There remains a great deal of work for librarians to transform and create a new narrative for the printed book.  The historical context of the 21st century requires libraries to be creative, expanding on the idea of Ceci n’est pas un Livre . The bookwall is a design example that the library can use to highlight the idea of learning in the library.  

    The overarching question remains: What type of machines do we allow into the Garden of Eden? Tell us what you think.

    Please take our Academic Library Survey

    Please take our Public Library Survey

    We will be releasing data about the survey at our workshop “make the library an incubator for learning” on June, 5, 2014 @ Steelcase Worklife NYC


    Image: René Magritte – La Lectrice soumise (1928)

  • Library Planning Research,  Social Library Issues

    How Libraries and Learning Theory are Put into Practice

    Librarians have the opportunity to guide patrons on their quest for research information, both online and in the stacks, gradually aligning the responsibility of the learning to the learner themselves. Directed learning activities (DLAs) can help academic libraries engage in active learning support.

    Instituted by many college libraries and learning resource centers, students can build their skills through the completion of a series of practice activities. DLAs can be effective in teaching grammar, writing, computer technology, Internet navigation, the possibilities are endless.

    In 1968 Malcolm Knowles projected the ancient Greek word “andragogy” into educational discourse, as the art and science of helping students learn. As opposed to pedagogy, andragogy focuses only on the adult learning experience. Terminology aside, in defining a way to reach adult learners educators provide differentiated learning strategies addressing how adults learn in contrast to how children learn.

    Using Bloom’s Taxonomy and adult learning strategies, librarians can create a library service program that can both actively engage and promote cooperative learning amongst students. Libraries can help foster lifelong learning DLA’s to adults and assist with community college retention rates and remediation.

    Shifting from directed learning strategies, libraries offer other opportunities for self-directed learning (SDL).  As a cornerstone of adult learning theory, SDL’s are dominant in the world of e-learning.  The development of hybrid and online courses; digital library archives that provide the learner with unique data mining opportunities. Libraries are natural places for self-directed inquiry and learning.

    How can these adult learning strategies work toward economic growth?

    Self-directed public library spaces can be a useful tool to help small businesses and individuals gain access to information; which in turn contributes to learning opportunities. Libraries provide a useful location for informed collaboration. With endless resources at your fingertips, the library can successfully put theory into practice.

    ThomJlibhoriz Untitled-35

  • Library Planning Research


    How well does the “library as place” support learning?

    It is important for the library building to provide natural flow and movement. When there are bottlenecks in the flow of traffic the building becomes dysfunctional. If this is happening at your library, it is necessary to understand space use and the issues that are creating dysfunction within the space. Believe me, patrons won’t find the library welcoming if their path to information is impeded. Nor will they be happy if the seating is inadequate.

    At Aaron Cohen Associates, LTD, we have been researching the ways in which libraries function for almost 40 years. During that time, we have focused on the most obvious problem – space usage. There is rarely enough space for sorting or processing materials, or for seating and study. And there are frequent issues with collection retention and book shelving that make tracking the usage of space imperative to the library’s users and its staff.

    Most library boards, management and administrators need to focus on keeping the library functioning. They work on strategic planning but ignore the fact that the physical flow of the library building is important. We believe they need to start tracking their building and its space when determining the library’s services, mission or vision. We know they can do both if they recognize the importance and integral nature of the “library as place.”

    The best way to get a handle on the “library as place” is to understand the movement of patrons, staff and material processing. If the library has a good handle on user flow, it can manage movement. If it can predict the needs of its customers, it can develop efficiencies. If the library has a good layout for processing and management of materials, it can support increases in services and provide more value to the community. All in all, building movement is just as important as providing information in a timely manner. In fact, it improves information support and allows the library to provide more to its customers.

    Before we can provide the surroundings for learning spaces that nurture the individual, we need to cultivate the idea of tracking movement, starting with a program of requirements such as how much time a patron uses a space or a seat. For example, if the library provides seating along the “living edge” (individuals seating next to the window wall), then they need an understanding of the flow around the user seat. Is the traffic distracting? Does it provide the silent space that is required for focus?

    We believe that libraries can nurture learning by providing individual, collaborative and group learning spaces that are truly functional. In order to know what works, the library staff must be aware of the environmental conditions. When they are deployed in problem areas (entrance, meeting room, stacks) the sensors allow staff to determine current usage and identify user needs. For example, preservation and archival environments use sensors to protect their older and most valuable materials. Accordingly, staff can use environmental sensors to track temperature spikes, visitor flow and capacity, sound and light fluctuations. These tools enable the library staff to gain an understanding of the functional user environment. Deploying sensor tools provides a way to track repetitive environmental issues. It allows staff to address and improve the library building with limited funds.

    We need to face the reality that the future is in the hands of those who take advantage of information. By monitoring behavior and movement, we can get a handle on the learning environment and understand the condition of the learning space so that we can improve the library service. By actively tracking the use of learning spaces, the building can reflect professional service in a more professional environment. Certainly, this is something librarians can use to understand their users’ needs. So start testing the use of environmental sensors so that users can flow freely in the “library as place,” and you can improve the library and the building for future users.

  • Library Planning Research,  Space Planning

    visual scan

    The library building is a structural framework of spaces that support a network of physical and virtual library services and operations. We have developed a measurement approach to visualize each space and ascertain whether it helps or impedes the activities and functions it is supposed to support. Our approach utilizes a series of observations that we call the Visual Scan©.  The Scan helps to answer three questions about the quality of the physical library and the building that it occupies:


              Where is the library now?

              Where do the library staff want it to be?

              How do they get there?


    The Visual Scan© documents activities through a series of photographs and diagrams. Pictures that illustrate behavioral responses give the planning team a description of existing conditions and the problems encountered by each target group. As we record images, we ask the customers to define what is good or bad about the area in which they are situated. Their answers are placed beneath the photos and correlated with the identified service in the library planning storyboard. Next, the multiple images on the storyboard are used as part of a brainstorming process to transform the library.


    In the past, most library buildings have been linear and sequential. As we move through the space we observe, document and visualize the entire library, breaking down all of its spaces into zones that match service response priorities. Each zone is not an isolated entity within the library; it is part of the whole, a web of activities that must be modeled and adapted to human behavior. The relationships between each service group and the zones may be blurred.


    We need to amplify the experience. A Visual Scan© tells a story through a perspective of blur. It uses storyboards to help define the behavior within the library environment. It uses photos, diagrams and plans to map out the zones and clusters. Feedback will address the greatness that can be achieved with small changes.


  • Library Planning Research

    understanding learning spaces

    One of the oldest learning spaces is the church, synagoge and mosque.  They consist of a place to study, a teacher and students and a holy book – (ex. bible, torah or koran). 

    There are lessons we can learn from religious environments.  By observing learning spaces within a religous environment we will see it consists of two parts:

    • A physical place to work – (ex. desk, chair and book). 
    • Activities that takes place – (ex. lessons from the preist, rabbi or mullah). 

    In our evaluation of learning spaces, we like to envision them as pockets of activity. Learning spaces which are dynamic have a mix of elements.  You can have two or three people working together.  When there are more then six to eight people in an environment two modes of behavior and activity take place:

    1. Informal – cafe, meeting place.
    2. Formal – classroom, training area.

    Students working in an environment require learning spaces. The way you can measure their success is by observing the activity that is taking place. How do you describe your learning space?