Library Construction and Renovation

library interior

Transition from paper to digital can make more space available

Libraries transform communities, and “the ways in which a library uses its space resources to support the development of its community is crucial to its continuing success,” says Les Watson, educational advisor, consultant on learning spaces, and editor of Better Library and Learning Spaces: Projects, Trends and Ideas (2012).

The transition from paper-based resources to digital information is an opportunity to make more space available for library users, Watson says. Nor are the implications merely local: “Recognizing that national competitiveness and success relies on an educated and capable population and that libraries are part of a nation’s educational infrastructure gives libraries (of all types) an important role . . . as places of learning,” Watson says. “This requires a variety of spaces that match the diversity of learners and their learning activities underpinned by capable staff, great technology, excellent resources, and timely and accurate understanding of user behavior and satisfaction.

In other words, libraries should look to interior design as a means of providing an “inspiring experience” for users; emphasize service integration, which will help ensure the survival of both public and academic libraries in tough times; and focus on using space as a means of responding to the culture of the communities they serve.

“What is most important . . . is to focus library space on the development of the learning community the library serves,” Watson says. Current trends in library building and renovation include:

  • Open-plan space, which provides flexibility and ensures that a building can easily be modified in the future.
  • Semi-private space, which recognizes that open-plan space may not be appropriate for every activity or suit the taste of every user. “Furniture has emerged as a key factor in creating variety in the library experience . . . [because] it can easily be rearranged to change the look and feel of a space,” Watson says.
  • Technology-rich space, which should permeate the library and enable users to be the best learners they can.

These trends find expression in several libraries that won the 2013 Library Building Awards, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects and ALA’s Library Leadership and Management Association, and in others that were featured in American Libraries’ “2013 Library Design Showcase.”

Bringing community resources into play

A small-scale residential context provided the inspiration for the design of the Anacostia Neighborhood Library, a new branch of the District of Columbia Public Library in a low-income, underserved neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The project fulfilled programmatic needs, but it also provided a stimulus for community pride and economic development. The library has a series of pavilions for program areas that require enclosure: the children’s program room, the young adults’ area, support spaces, and public meeting rooms. The rest of the level-one plan is high, open space for the main reading room, stacks, computers, and public seating areas. (Architects: The Freelon Group; cost: $10.3 million)

Elsewhere in D.C., the William O. Lockridge/Bellevue Neighborhood branch offers another example of “innovative architecture that addresses user needs in unique, interesting, and effective ways.” The American Libraries review calls it “a commanding, positive presence in an impoverished area, featuring a large, three-story glass, wood, and concrete main building with three extending, geometric-shaped pavilions.” (Architects: Adjaye Associates and Wiencek + Associates; cost: $13.5 million)

In a move that resulted in an 83% increase in public space, the St. Louis Public Library’s 100-year-old Central Library transformed a once-closed seven-story stacks area into a soaring atrium with mezzanine and converted a former coal storage area into a 250-seat auditorium, expanding children’s and teen rooms and creating a new entrance with a reflecting pool. (Architects: Cannon Design; cost: $70 million)

Designing libraries for digital undertakings

Dixie State University’s new Jeffrey R. Holland Centennial Commons, in St. George, Utah, is an information hub for the campus. The library, with its showcase digital commons, shares space with the English department, a writing center, career services, and the IT department, allowing students and faculty easy access to services in one building. (Architects: Sasaki Associates, VCBO Architecture; cost: $41 million)

Saint Joseph’s University, in Philadelphia, updated its library to bring it fully into the digital age. The new 35,000–square foot John and Maryanne Hennings Post Learning Commons at Drexel Library offers students and faculty the latest technologies, including a presentation practice room with video capabilities; an audiovisual multimedia lab; and a digital media zone with dual-monitor computers, comprehensive research content, and the latest software. (Architects: BWA Architecture + Planning; cost: $16 million)

The archives housed at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum are completely digital, and the entire Bush Center “is designed to present the past and engage the future,” former First Lady (and librarian) Laura Bush said at the dedication in April 2013. On May 1, 2013, the library, on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, became the first presidential library to open to the public with a platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

And Anne Arundel Community College, in Arnold, Maryland, renovated and expanded its Andrew G. Truxal Library with a focus on technology, adding 20 tech-rich collaboration rooms and two information literacy labs. The spaces are tied together by a large commons area featuring quick-access computer kiosks. (Architects: EwingCole, RATIO Architects, Associated Architects; cost: $16.8 million)

In higher ed, enhancing space for creation-based learning

While trends like information commons, flexibility, and sustainability continue to inform the design of academic libraries, they also reflect the need to bring together the tools, resources, and physical (or virtual) space needed to accommodate shifts in pedagogical practice. OCLC calls the new, renovated, or expanded building projects completed in 2013 dramatic examples of how space can be “reconfigured around broader education and research needs, and less around the management of print collections.”

Academic libraries are accommodating the pedagogical shift toward more content creation and design across the spectrum of disciplines. More libraries are developing environments and facilitating opportunities to harness this creativity by building physical spaces where students can learn and create together, integrating content- and product-centered activities as part of their instruction. Campus libraries increasingly host not only maker spaces, but also other services that support creativity and production, such as video equipment loans and studios, digitizing facilities, and publication services, according to the New Media Consortium.

A few of the more remarkable examples:

  • The DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library at the University of Nevada, Reno, is the first academic library in the United States to offer 3D printing and scanning as a library service to all students, enabling students in a multitude of disciplines to make plastic 3D models from a computer drawing for their research and studies.
  • The renovated James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, features fritted glass and a fixed external aluminum shading system that helps diminish heat gain, maximize views of a nearby lake, and provide abundant ambient natural light. Ceiling-mounted, active chilled beams and radiant panels provide heating and cooling, and rain gardens and green roofs help manage storm water.
  • Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia has updated its library and added a new 35,000-square-foot learning commons to offer students and faculty the latest technologies, including a presentation practice room with video capabilities; an audiovisual multimedia lab; and a digital media zone with dual-monitor computers, comprehensive research content, and the latest software.

Matthew Conner, instruction/reference librarian at the Peter J. Shields Library, University of California, Davis, cites “areas of emphasis that . . . apply consistently across all academic libraries. These are: 1) the consolidation of collections into shared repositories; 2) data curation to involve the storage and retrieval of new media; 3) user-centered building spaces; [and] 4) A new flexibility of staff roles associated with more initiative at lower levels in hierarchy and higher levels of training.”

Town-gown partnerships

The South Mountain Community Library, in Phoenix, integrates the varied uses of a public library with the needs of a state-of-the-art academic library, allowing this partnership between the Phoenix Public Library and South Mountain Community College to function both independently and collaboratively. Its design is modeled on an integrated circuit, providing insulation between disparate functions but promoting interaction and connection between like functions and spaces. (Architects: richärd+bauer; cost: $16.3 million)

The Camden County (N.J.) Library System built the Nilsa I. Cruz-Perez Downtown Branch inside the the Paul Robeson Library on the Rutgers University Camden campus. The branch occupies 5,000 square feet of space that once held academic stacks and features offices, a programming room, a digital classroom, and public access computers. (Architect: Carlos Raul Rodriguez; cost: $2.5 million)

Libraries will also have a key role to play with the development of Massive Open Online Courses. “MOOCs may well mean that libraries become the most important places of learning as they can not only serve up MOOC content but also be the places for collaborative learning, with learners meeting in local groups to undertake project work assigned by remote MOOC tutors,” Watson says.

New ideas on spaces for youngsters

Open space comes with wide-open opportunities for challenging the norms of library design. The New York Public Library converted the previously empty third-floor space of its Hamilton Grange branch library in Harlem into a teen center, the NYPL’s first full-floor space dedicated to teens. In an effort to attract and engage neighborhood youth, the light-filled floor is divided into specific zones that foster small-group interaction and socialization. (Rice+Lipka Architects; cost: $1.8 million)

On the other hand, the new teen area in the Schaumburg Township (Ill.) District Library, featured in the American Libraries’ Library Design Showcase” article, is office space repurposed to include a soundproofed multipurpose room with gaming stations, collaboration stations, connected discussion rooms, a quiet room, a café, and a professional digital media production studio. (Architects: Dewberry; cost: $1.5 million)

And for the younger set, the renovations at Beverly Hills (Calif.) Public Library’s Children’s Library include the construction of a theater that accommodates 80 kids for storytimes and movies; an Enchanted Woods room that pays tribute to children’s book illustrations; and a barrel vault and swooping archways that mimic pages turning. (Architects: Johnson Favaro, LLC; cost: $3.2 million)

“A diaspora of places”

Libraries will continue to be physical places in some form in the future, but they may be very different by virtue of having broader functions than they do now.

“I think, for example, we will see a diaspora of places that would have been libraries but for which the name can no longer be applied—libraries as integrated service centers, libraries as media centers or mediathèques, libraries as learning communities,” Watson says.

Case in point: the new Central Library of the Madison (Wisc.) Public Library. The Wisconsin State Journal may have been overstating it a bit when it called the new branch “a whole new concept in libraries,” but it is undeniable that the new branch is keeping up with the latest trends—and perhaps setting new ones. Visitors can borrow an iPad, sign up for a class in audio engineering, and in fact use the building for everything from study groups and business meetings to making video games, recording music, repairing bikes, and doing performance art. And yes, there will be books—ebooks and print books. summed it all up in an all-lower-case article on its own nominees for top 10 libraries of 2013: “even at a time of economic struggle, it has been encouraging to see investment in a number of schemes designed to enliven and enrich our communities. the role of the library continues to evolve, with new designs housing a range of multimedia activities and communal areas alongside more traditional programs.”


The State of America's Libraries 2014