Creating Zones with Heart

By Michael Stephens |

Greetings from Northern Michigan! The days of summer are flying by and I’m splitting my time between trying to wear out our new Labrador Retriever Cooper and prepping for upcoming talks at ALA Annual. I’ll be presenting for LLAMA BES (that’s the Library Leadership & Management Association Buildings and Equipment Section if you’re spinning the wheel of ALA acronyms) in a program called  “Library 2.0 Buildings: Creating Zones with Heart.” 


I’m excited about the topic because sometimes we get so caught up in talking about technology, the spaces and places of our libraries take a backseat. Libraries need to encourage the heart in the physical realm as well as the online. 


I agree with folks like John Beck that the library can offer many spaces and opportunities to varied groups. We should constantly be looking for creative ways to create zones in the library for our different user groups. I also think it should be okay to have fun at the library - gaming, DDR, creation of stuff, etc - as well as make it comfortable and useful for others. I’m not just writing about public libraries but about academic libraries too. 


For my part of the program, I’ve been batting around these “zones” in my head on long walks with Cooper at the “Quiet Area” pond nearby. I’d be very interested in feedback from our readers about these zones and any others they may have in their libraries.


Community Zone


A space for the community to gather encourages people to use the library not only as a place to get “stuff,” but as a central, integral part of people’s lives. Think public libraries and meeting space or think academic libraries and the campus community the library serves: students, faculty and staff.


One goal for a library might be to re-establish the idea of the commons - that shared space that can become many things to many people and everyone feels ownership.  I want our constituents to feel strong ownership of our buildings and services.


Creativity Zone


This zone encourages people to express themselves via technology or other media. Podcasting stations, video production areas, image manipulation setups, space set aside for writing activities, and any other creative endeavour may find its way into the library.


Curiosity Zone


What do you want to know today? That could be the motto for this zone - where any and all questions are answered via online and (gasp!) print resources by knowledgeable and engaged staff. I’m reminded of John Blyberg’s “Let’s Be Curious with our Users” post riffing on Seth Godin’s points about curiosity.


Collaboration Zone


This zone encourages people to come together to work on projects or complete a task. It might be teen-centered, or an “office on the go” type set up, or a craft/art type space or a technology rich environment, but my guess is it will be a mash up of all of these things.


Caring Zone


This zone should encompass the entire space. The wonderful thing - and the thing that brings this post to TechSource is through all of these zones there are two very important threads that tie them together and make them work -technology and people. We need technology - all shapes, sizes, and cost factors - to create some of these spaces, but we also need dedicated encouragers/facillitators to help people learn, experience, and utilize the space. The most important one is the people of course - a caring mindset trumps spiffy expensive technology everyday. The mindset should also be humanistic, kind, and in all ways encouraging. 


Sometimes it seems we get so hung up on control and workflow, that we miss opportunities to involve users with the library and library staff. A recent example is this one, from a photo by Kathryn Greenhill :


“They have added a half wall so that staff and patrons cannot make eye contact or see each other,” she writes. “It felt really dehumanizing to stand on one side of the barrier, centimetres from someone in a building built on service and not be able to smile or say hello.”


The library should be human. The library should be there for users. The library should be built by involving users every step of the way. And spaces and places within our walls should reflect that. At the LLAMA BES program we’ll hear two notable library innovators who have achieved these goals, sharing and talking about their spaces: 


Case Study 1:  Darien Library, Darien, Connecticut, Alan Kirk Gray, Assistant Director - Operations


Case Study 2:  The Commons, Georgia Inst. of Technology, Atlanta, GA, Robert E. Fox, Jr., Associate Director, Libraries


Until then, please share your “Zone Stories” here and read more about the case study locations: