Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning
Photo credit: Emily Puckett Rodgers
It was the last day and the final panel of the Designing Libraries for the 21st Century conference. Leonora Crema, the scholarly communications librarian at the University of British Columbia, told the audience that “to carry innovation sometimes you have to create something seismic.” In the same discussion, regarding organizational change, both Mary Ann Mavrinac, vice provost and dean of River Campus Libraries at the University of Rochester, and Catherine Murray-Rust, dean of libraries at Georgia Tech, reminded audiences that, yes, sometimes change is big, but it can also be incremental, and big wins can come from small but thoughtful, planned shifts in organizational culture and service models.
The fifth annual conference, held this year at the University of Calgary, Alberta, spotlighted “Innovations with Impact,” and featured voices from the design, library, and education worlds. And it wasn’t all focused on building design. Invited speakers discussed a variety of topics ranging from designing active learning classrooms to advanced visualization spaces, from the development of vibrant Maker spaces to digital scholarship centers.
The conference brought together about 250 practitioners from across the world. Cohosted by North Carolina State University Libraries, the University of Calgary, and the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), the robust response proves there is still a need for engagement and critique of libraries as placemakers in the 21st century.
Participants were treated to a variety of building tours, from those just at the start of construction (Calgary Public Library’s Central branch and the Riddell Library and Learning Centre at Mt. Royal University) to those which have been open and operational for years (Taylor Family Digital Library and its High Density Storage Library). Tours also included the newly opened Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre.
Joan Lippincott, associate executive director of CNI, moderated many of the panels and challenged attendees to consider what distinguishes library learning spaces from other campus or civic learning spaces, such as academic student services, museums, or civic centers. Libraries, she stated, need “to make connections to learning” through deep community or organizational partnerships by setting strategic goals, assessing the impact of stated connections to learning, and by looking to the future by allowing for unanticipated uses of space, programs, and services.
The ways in which these new buildings embody the community are apparent: they are light-filled and offer visible paths through the building; they offer a variety of spaces, furniture options, and technology that are customizable by community members; they are versatile and designed to allow for unanticipated use scenarios by packing in power and data; they inspire in their design by incorporating creative expression from their communities; and, most important, they house staff and community members who are excited, engaged, and strategic.