Monday 6 June 2016

Better Library and Learning Space

Finished May 30
Better Library and Learning Space: Projects, Trends, and Ideas edited by Les Watson

This book has contributions from 25 authors including Watson and covers public, academic, and school libraries. While the focus is on space, not services, several contributors touch on service issues. Part 1 looks at projects and trends with chapters focusing on libraries in the UK, US, China, Hong Kong, Europe, and Australasia. UK trends included open plans, technology-rich environments and increased opportunities for self-help. US case studies focused on renovations to older buildings, and trends included the need for flexible space, technology storage, modular furniture, connectivity and power sources, adjustable lighting, and security systems. The Chinese case studies discussed the different cultural history, and the gradual movement away from a book focussed environment. In Hong Kong the focus was the move towards outcome-based curriculum, technology, and interactive spaces. In Europe, libraries in the Netherlands and Germany were looked at, with strong conceptual designs as the focus. In Australia, the case studies included both urban and remote libraries and focused on social cohesion and gathering spaces, the relationship to the environment and technology, and the acknowledge of indigenous cultural.
Part 2 is a focused look at trends. The first chapter here looked at technology and change and asked the interesting question "What is the next form of technology that is the library?" a twist from the traditional way of thinking about technology and libraries. Topics included BYOD, big data, and robots as well as the move from technology in operational needs to technology in terms of user needs. The second chapter looked at digital and media literacy and discussed a participatory culture of learning. Chapter three looked at issues around library spaces. A survey reported that the top space issues were HVAC issues and noise. There was a nice quote from John Ruskin here "We seek two things of our buildings. We want them to shelter us. And we want them to speak to us." leading to a discussion on the need for areas of silence and solitude as well as areas for communal and collaborative activity. Noted here were the use of colour and graphics in addition to book stacks and furniture to define spaces. In discussing the now common reference to libraries as a third space, they noted that this is a combination of first and second places in creating a space of work, leisure, and learning with the feeling of home. The final chapter in this section looked at using a combination of rational and intuitive decision-making when designing spaces, consulting as widely as possible, and building for the future rather than the past. Mentioned here is a PEST analysis (Political, Economic, Social, and Technological) which was new to me. They suggested doing "day in the life" analyses for each type of user and staff member to show how they used new features. They also advocated for using temporary solutions as experiments. I was happy to see that we'd done a lot of these things at my library as we took new looks at our space and how to use it.
Part 3 is a collection of essays on different views of the future library. I found this section a real mix with some very academic writing and some more approachable. There were many different ideas raised here. One spoke of activity-led space usability approaches with a connection to library's USP (unique service proposition. They defined this USP as build and curate collections and disclose objects in those collections to people in support of public policy, specifically to disclose knowledge to users to enable learning in its many forms. Their view was that everything libraries do should derive from this. One writer brought up the issue of dynamic conservatism, the fight to remain the same and how it can slow change in libraries. Public service has seen move evolutionary change than revolutionary change, and this issue was illuminated with a 1980 quote from Peter Drucker "The greatest danger in times of turbulence, is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday's logic." Another writer looked as some examples from the Netherlands to show how architecture and community worked to connect with books in different ways at the Amsterdam Public Library and through the Architecture of Public Knowledge initiative. Another writer looked at the concept of P21 (Partners for 21st Century Skills) with a focus on information and media literacy, taking image as a starting place and using mashups and creative partnerships to move in a new direction. I liked the Steelcase scape table here. They did note that you need to be careful not to repackage analog associations in a digital form. Another view was that of the transformation from a 2D age to a 3D age. In 2D, the textbook is at the center with creativity curtailed by books, guidelines, and curricula like a giant human copier without passion. A 3D age has people learning from each other, bringing passionate talent with access to information. This age is about lifelong learning as an integral part of life. Other views included reconfigurable spaces to serve a multiplicity of functions, varied spaces, collaborative and social spaces, the importance of observational research, the concept of community, and acknowledgement of sightlines and circulation routes. Of prime importance was customers' interaction with staff, minimizing the front of house to eliminate old style fortress desks and move to integrated help points. Flexibility seems to be a common theme from space to furniture to displays.
I found the book had lots of interesting ideas that will lend themselves to any library space project.

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