awesome spaces and virtual places
A funny thing happened in the face of predictions that physical libraries would disappear in the age of Google and the iPhone. Over the past decade we have seen cities around the world develop new library facilities, and reimagine library space at a speed not seen since the 19th century when Dewey’s classification system was introduced and book stacks were opened to the public.
Phase one of public engagement about the new Central Library asked citizens about their priorities for both the new Central Library and the library system. Calgarians made it clear that they have great ideas about the spaces within the Library and how they want to interact with the Library in virtual places. “Community Public Space” emerged as the second highest ranked priority for the Library system. Many citizens contributed specific comments about the types of spaces they wanted and how those spaces should function and feel. This discussion paper outlines trends in the types of spaces people are seeking and suggests how other cities are addressing them.
Today, public libraries both in Calgary and across the nation are busier than ever. “Library use has been increasing steadily over the past decade, with the average annual number of library transactions per capita increasing 45%, from 16.6 events in 2000-2001 to 24.1 events in 2008-2009. Per capita transactions include all in-person visits, circulation, program attendance, electronic database uses, and internet visits.” (Canadian Urban Libraries Council. An Analysis of Public Library Trends. Prepared by Lumos Research Inc., 2011. P. 4.)
The library building, rather than becoming a fixed and irrelevant structure, has embraced the changing concept of the library through innovative, smart design and a rethinking of the use of space.
New technologies, the shift from physical to virtual books, and the increasing role of a library as a community builder and as a gathering place, are driving the transformation of the physical structure and layout of libraries.
With the development of new libraries in diverse cities like Halifax, San Diego and Aarhus, Denmark, it is exciting to consider the possibilities for a new Central Library and new library branches in Calgary. While we are monitoring new library developments around the world, there is recognition that Calgary’s new Central Library and future library branches will reflect what is unique to this great city, and will be distinct, and affordable. Through public input, innovative thinking, new partnerships, and a willingness to move beyond the norms of the past, we can anticipate libraries of the future that are different from traditional libraries, ensuring that functionality, space and budget are aligned with what citizens want and require.
The classic library form of the last century was the Carnegie Library. Calgary’s example, the Memorial Park Library, is still in use today. These imposing buildings stood for a vision of libraries appropriate to their time: formal and authoritative. But the trends described below will dramatically change the nature of library buildings and services going forward.
The old libraries were very much about a sole patron quietly going about his business so as not to disturb others. Twenty first century library design emphasizes the customer experience, where customers are actively engaged in the design and delivery of services, and where collaboration and creation are encouraged rather than discouraged.
New library buildings are being built to reflect these shifts. For example, Seattle’s Central Library moved to a more flexible, user-centered design and away from a “book warehouse”; the Salt Lake City Central Library has outdoor spaces and community “living rooms” which position it more as the community gathering place.
Flexibility and Convenience
Because the information world and communities are changing so rapidly, flexibility is important. For example, The City Centre Library in Surrey, B.C. which opened in 2011 was constructed with raised access floors to allow for the reconfiguration and adaptation of electrical and mechanical systems to serve potential future layout changes (Source: http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/al_focus/photos/surrey-bc-libraries-city-centre-library)
With an increasingly diverse population and a reduced need for collection space, many libraries are focusing on creating flexible and convenient space that meets the needs of every library user. The Taylor Family Digital Library (TFDL) at the University of Calgary is filled with different spaces geared toward accommodating a wide range of study and learning styles. Walls and furniture are moveable and the use of space is adaptable and maximized (Source: http://kasian.com/content/news-stories/2011/624). In today’s libraries, everything from lighting to seating to equipment can be changed, moved or adapted.
As technology becomes more affordable, mobile and pervasive, there is a growing emphasis on the role of the virtual library space. Today, there is the expectation that information will be accessible from anywhere, anytime on any device. There is also a growing trend for virtual spaces to be interactive, customizable and social. The Library has an important role to play in providing easily accessible and transparent service in both the virtual and physical world.
To promote the virtual space, greater consideration will be given to making the “invisible world” visible and accessible, although it is difficult to predict the methods that will be used. In the future, will download stations be placed adjacent to physical bookshelves? Will technology play areas, interactive walls, holographic displays and the use of augmented reality be an integral part of the Library?
The library functions as the centre of community, and a neutral space where all citizens belong. Libraries provide a bridge between the individual and the community, across economic, cultural, philosophical and educational lines.
Canadian architect, Bing Thom, who recently designed the City Centre Library in Surrey, B.C. said, “Libraries are the new cathedrals of our society. They’re very important sanctuaries. People are living in smaller and smaller spaces, so the library becomes the place you escape to for socialization, for solitude, to take a breath. It’s the last space in society that’s free. Even for the homeless. There is a sense of democracy; it is a common space we all share.” (Source: http://www.metropolismag.com/story/20120720/still-here)
In a digital world, there remains the age-old need for human contact, and new central libraries in cities like Seattle and Salt Lake City have created spaces that serve all members of the public, whether it is for reading and research (reading rooms and quiet study areas), socializing (cafes, delis and meeting rooms), technology (wired and wireless access) or creating and accessing cultural materials (art galleries, screening rooms and recording studios). (Source: http://connect.ala.org/files/69099/ala_checking_out_the_pdf_93915.pdf)
Learning and Working
Today’s generation was born into the knowledge economy, and unlike their parents and grandparents who grew up in an industrial model of education, they expect participatory learning, and believe that education is lifelong and does not take place only in the classroom. They expect learning to accommodate all modes of sensory input and learning experiences, and build competencies through a process of inquiry and discovery.
Similarly, work no longer just takes place in an office or work site. With technological advances, more and more people are working from home, their local library or cafés. Libraries are accommodating the changes to work and learning patterns by creating distinctive spaces for all kinds of experiences, from solitary to interactive, from guided to self-directed.
Collaboration with other community organizations and institutions will foster new opportunities and experiences, such as further development of technology training or literacy skills. Shared resources will allow libraries to devote more energy and space to services designed to improve community participation and cohesion, including e-government, arts and culture, publishing and health and wellness.
Collaboration between libraries and users will create new kinds of spaces that encourage co-creation. For example, the Library’s local history department supporting the writing and printing of personal histories; recording and animation studios could support the local arts community, similar to the Charlotte Public Library in North Carolina, where users can create their own videos and other creative content.
As citizens’ needs become increasingly diverse, so will the spaces that make up the Library. Over 12,000 Calgarians provided the input that identified “Awesome Spaces and Virtual Places” as an important topic to explore. Now it’s your turn to help us “Dig Deep!” into this theme. Please join us at our public events and learn more here on our website.
Questions to consider about future libraries
• In the design of space, how should libraries balance the need for a place of solitude with the need for interaction?
• What impact might the changing demographics (cultural, economic, educational and social) have on the design and use of the library?