Creating Community Connections Using Modern Library Design
May 25 2023
“Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities,”
— R. David Lankes, “Expect More: Demand Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World.”
Libraries today offer so much more than access to books. They act as a home to many community resources, tech hubs, workspaces, forums for community events and civic dialogue, preservation spaces for local history, and safe places to hang out without spending any money.
There are several challenges to designing modern-day libraries, such as tight budgets, designing for a diverse user group, creating spaces that are adaptable but not too flexible, and curating a place that feels welcoming to the specific community they serve.
Fortunately, there are many solutions to the design challenges that libraries face. Finding a design team that knows the community and understands the vision for their ideal library space can help bring more members of the community together inside the library.
Challenge #1: Designing for a Diverse User Group
Libraries are one of the few truly accessible public spaces because users do not need to have a library card or spend any money to utilize most of the library’s abundant resources. Libraries are open to anyone regardless of age, income, or education level.
Because libraries cater to such diverse user groups, designers must work with library staff and the community to create an accessible, efficient space. One way that designers can help ensure the library meets the needs of the staff and community is through community engagement during the design process. Designers can engage users through presentations and community meetings, lunches with different user groups, and open comments.
Challenge #2: Creating Adaptable Spaces
One of the challenges of creating a library is creating spaces that are adaptable, but not so flexible that the original purpose of designing the space is lost. Creating versatile spaces are especially important for smaller branch libraries because it allows them to take full advantage of their compact space to host more programs and resources without having to spend money on expanding their facilities.
Since no two libraries’ needs are the same, creating versatile spaces will look different for each individual library. There are many solutions that can be implemented to create an adaptable space without spending a lot of money. Examples of this include:
- Choosing flexible furniture that is easy to move, easy to store, and can be used in a variety of ways. The right furniture choice can help staff transform rooms into whatever configuration is needed.
- Creative storage solutions can help add more flexible space in the library. For example, building bookshelves under staircases or having storage built into furniture can help free up more space for activities and resources that usually are housing books and other materials.
Challenge #3: Encouraging User Engagement
Libraries are often overlooked by some members of the community. Giving a library a fresh look or building a brand-new library can help attract more visitors and increase user engagement.
Libraries should be designed to stand out in order to grab the attention of the communities they are located in. Designing bright, aesthetically pleasing libraries will draw people inside and creating comfortable and efficient spaces will help encourage users to continue coming to the library. Some examples of design solutions that encourage user engagement include:
- Creating public, private, and communal workspaces so users can complete a variety of projects in the library, whether users want to read alone or study with a group.
- Installing comfortable furniture that is also conducive to collaboration encourages users to want to stay in the space longer.
- Ensuring resources are visible and accessible. The library should be laid out so that it is easy to navigate. Proper signage is another valuable tool to ensure users can find the resources they need.
Challenge #4: Working with a Tight Budget
Like many municipal clients, libraries are looking for innovative ways to do more without going over budget. Libraries seeking to save money often apply for grants or share there facilities with another public entity.
If a library is choosing to share its facilities with another public entity, it is important for the design team to consider the needs of both entities when designing the building. Open communication between the designer and the client(s) throughout the design process is key to ensuring that the budget is closely adhered to. The designers can recommend the best materials to use and how using varied materials will impact the cost of the project.
Project Spotlight: Bertie County Library
Bertie County’s new Library and North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office is a 16,000-square-foot facility that features a library, community room, cooperative extension offices, teaching kitchen, and a shared gallery and gathering space.
This project, funded by a Golden LEAF Grant, serves as a new anchor for the Town of Windsor. The library and extension office were combined and moved out of the flood plain due to hurricane damage and to ensure community longevity.
This project centers around the Bertie County community and the other communities the library and cooperative extension serve. Special focus was placed on the needs and nuances to best serve the diverse populations that will use the building and bring them together. From 120-person, banquet-style dinner events to the library’s story time and the cooperative extension’s Cooking Camp, this facility will fit many roles within Bertie County.
Together, we can create beautiful, engaging libraries that unite communities.