On the surface, a conversation about the physical spaces within libraries might not seem relevant in:re technology in libraries, but there’s a trend I’ve noticed — not only in my own library, but in other libraries I’ve visited in recent months: user-supplied tech in library landscapes.
Over the course of the last decade, we’ve seen a steady rise in the use of portable personal computing devices. In their Evolution of Technology survey results, Pew Research Center reports that 51% of Americans own a tablet, and 77% own smartphones. Library patrons seem to be doing less browsing and more computing, and user-supplied technology has become ubiquitous — smartphones, and tablets, and notebooks, oh my! Part of the reason for this BYO tech surge may be explained by a triangulation of high demand for the library’s public computer stations, decreased cost of personal devices, and the rise of telecommuting and freelance gig-work in the tech sector. Whatever the reasons, it seems that a significant ratio of patrons are coming to the library to use the wi-fi and the workspace.
I recently collected data for a space-use analysis at my library, and found that patrons who used our library for computing with personal devices outnumbered browsers, readers, and public computer users 3:1. During the space use survey, I noted that whenever our library classrooms are not used for a class, they’re peopled with multiple users who “camp” there, working for 2 – 4 hours at a time. Considering elements of these more recently constructed rooms that differ from the space design in the rest of the 107-year-old building offers a way into thinking about future improvements. Below are a few considerations that may support independent computers and e-commuters in the library space.
Furnish work spaces with chairs designed to provide lumbar support and encourage good posture, as well as tables that match the chairs in terms of height ratio to prevent wrist- and shoulder-strain.
A place to plug in at each surface allows users to continue working for long periods. It’s important to consider not only the number of outlets, but their position: cords stretched across spaces between tables and walls could result in browsers tripping, or knocking laptops off a table.
Reliable Wireless Signal
It goes without saying that telecommuters need the tele– to do their commuting. Fast, reliable wi-fi is a must-have.
If possible, a library’s spaces should be well-defined, with areas for users to meet and talk, and areas of quiet where users can focus on their work without interruption. Sound isn’t the only environmental consideration. A building that’s too hot or too cold can be distracting. High-traffic areas — such as spaces near doors, teens’ and children’s areas, or service desks — aren’t the best locations for study tables.
This is a complex issue; it’s not easy to strike a balance. For instance, libraries need to protect community resources — especially the expensive electronic ones like wiring — from spills; but we don’t want our patrons to dehydrate themselves while working in the library! At our library, we compromise and allow beverages, as long as those beverages have a closed lid, e.g., travel mugs, yes; to go cups (which have holes that can’t be sealed) no.
As library buildings evolve to accommodate digital natives and those whose workplaces have no walls, it’s important to keep in mind the needs of these library users and remix existing spaces to be useful for all of our patrons, whether they’re visiting for business or for pleasure.