Posted by: bluesyemre | July 24, 2018

Remodelling libraries: trends and opportunities (part 1-2) by Alan J Clark


Remodelling libraries: trends and opportunities (part 1)

In this first of two articles, Alan J Clark looks at the big picture of the ways in which libraries are being designed for a new era in service provision.

Re-imagining library spaces

Against a background of public library closures, budget and staff reductions it is easy to overlook the ways in which libraries are reinventing themselves.

Despite a challenging economic situation, innovative, exciting, boundary extending libraries are still being built and remodelled, both in the UK and across the world. Alan J Clark mines the rich resources of Designing Libraries and its reporting to examine emerging trends in library and library service design.

Designing libraries in the 21st century

Gemma John’s study of public libraries in Europe and North America, Designing Libraries in the 21st Century: Lessons for the UK outlines the perceived main functions of public libraries today, how people engage with them now and how they may in the future. It then goes on to look at design characteristics of contemporary public libraries and also how staff  are re-imagining library spaces to create a better experience for the user.

Across library sectors we might do worse than look at the judging criteria for the most recent Australian Library and Information Association Design Awards for a summary of what characteristics current cutting edge library buildings should exhibit:

Design: including appearance, flexibility, innovation, visual impact and integration into the local environment.

Strategic relevance: approach to achieving objectives; response to special considerations/challenges; sustainability; value for money.

Impact: user experience; functionality; delivery of services; meeting community needs; accessibility.

A number of trends within current library design, and examples of library buildings which manifest them, can be discerned by analysing features published by Designing Libraries over the past 18 months.

Mega libraries

Despite worldwide economic difficulties, large, spectacular and aspirational libraries continue to be built. It is a valid question to ask what the overall effect of these mega libraries is on other libraries and library services in their regions.

Calgary, Canada has an aspiration to build the best public library system in the world with its new Central Librarydue to open in November 2018. “Every library in the Calgary Public Library system will be of the same calibre as New Central Library.”  Quite an ambition!

Perth City Library, W. Australia, was the winner of the ALIA awards in 2017, described as “A capital city library”. At about the same time a review of libraries in Western Australia warned that there were too many, outdated and inappropriately placed libraries in Western Australia.  

At a national level, the recently opened Qatar National Library provides a rich range of services for all residents. Visitors can make use of individual and group study spaces, computer labs, a writing centre and Innovation Stations offering a wide variety of creative tools, such as 3D printers and musical instruments. The National Library of Latvia, similarly, is a library for everyone. Users can access more than 350,000 items on open shelves, use facilities for individual and group work, with workstations for editing audio, video and 3D files, digital pianos for playing musical scores and special reading rooms for the visually impaired.

Joint service libraries

A number of libraries provide services jointly to both the public and student community, the finest example of this being The Hive in Worcester, the UK’s first integrated public and university library. “The use of space and collections is defined by what visitors want to do not who they are.”

De Krook Library, Ghent, will be Ghent University’s research showcase. “The idea is to show visitors how the future is shaping up. De Krook can then act as an interactive laboratory. Everyone is free to participate.” Other examples include Colindale Library in Barnet, co-located with Barnet and Southgate Colleges, The Forum, Southend, a joint venture between Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, the University of Essex and South Essex College, and Wick Library, Highland, a public library integrated with the Wick 3-18 campus.

Libraries as community hubs

Many library authorities have sought to adopt hub models of provision, attracted by the idea of cutting costs, increasing footfall and providing more services in one place to give residents multiple reasons to visit and attract different groups of users.

Designing Libraries maintains a record of new and refurbished libraries opened or announced which identifies those libraries co-located with other community services. Among the libraries that illustrate this growing trend we might highlight the new vision for libraries in the Highlands, Chelmsford’s new families hub where the library is at the heart of family support services, and the Edmonton Centre which brings together a completely refurbished library set over two floors and the council’s Customer Access facilities.

Crewe’s new Lifestyle Centre combines leisure facilities, modern family and social care provision, a library and community facilities all in one place. Wigan Life Centre is a multi-million pound leisure and public service complex bringing together council, health, leisure, housing, swimming pool and a new central library. Chester’s Storyhouseis a good example of a civic cultural hub combining library, theatre and cinema. The Hub Kerkrade in the Netherlands is a similar concept.

Third Place: the library as cultural centre and ‘the living room in the city’

A major trend in recent library design across sectors has been the reinvention of libraries as community spaces and creative spaces. In Gemma John’s report she refers to, “a place to meet, learn, read …” and De Krook Library describes itself as  “a place to read, to learn, to live – and simply to be.” The Lord Mayor of Perth described the library as “the City’s lounge room, a space for the people of Perth to meet, learn, create and engage.”

Thionville library and media centre in northeastern France has the ambition to become the new model for media libraries as a ‘third place’ for the public: a ‘collective living room’. The extraordinary Stovner library in Oslo is helping to define the shape of things to come, as, I think, is The Word in South Shields, whose project brief was to ask “What should a library for the 21st century look like, and what should it offer to the public?” The various answers to that question will shape (and change) libraries over the next decade.

Alan Clark is a member of the Designing Libraries Advisory Group

Remodelling libraries: trends and opportunities (part 2)

In his second of two articles, Alan J Clark continues his exploration of trends in library design with examples from the rich resources of Designing Libraries.

A space that is more than a building

The 21st century library provides a service which embraces the idea that neither the walls of the building, nor its physical contents, should define or constrain its services.  

Place or platform? questioned the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group Future library explored” in 2017. The future, in a widely used phrase, is ‘the connection, not the collection’. The implications for libraries and library buildings are significant. Not least of these is what we mean by ‘digital’ libraries, both in terms of collections and the connections users make with each other, and how they access services. In her article Digital library spacesKate Lomax of Artefacto examines the realities of the modern hybrid library where users interact both outside and inside the library’s spaces.

Here are some examples that reflect different aspects of libraries’ renegotiation of the spaces inside and outside of their physical walls and of the virtual spaces their services encompass.

The Word explores the interior/exterior/digital boundaries via its location, its glass frontage and its extensive digital and interactive media facilities. De Krook Library is a building that ‘spills over into the surrounding area, entering into a  dialogue with it. The exterior and interior merge to form a single unit.’ At the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, the library community boundaries are primarily within the one building, but with 85% of interaction with the library service online, the library pervades that building and all its research and teaching activities. And a growing interest in pop-up libraries provides opportunities to shift the library space from one location to another, both promoting a library’s wider services and the digital offer, and acting as a centre of discovery in its own right.

The challenge of refurbishments

Not all new libraries and new library concepts are new buildings. Working within the constraints of an existing building can be challenging, but with imaginative planning can deliver striking and successful results. Here are a few selected from the wide range of news stories and case studies on this site.

A case study of Denny Library, Falkirk, demonstrates that ‘libraries are no longer just about books, and we believe that we have created a dynamic environment for leisure and learning relevant for the digital age.’ (Lesley O’Hare, Culture and Libraries Manager). For the redevelopment of a heritage building, the refurbishment of the very first Carnegie library, Dunfermline justifies its several awards. The Victorian building that houses the newly refurbished Queen’s Hall library and arts centre in Hexham shows what can be done to bring together a wide range of cultural and council services. Finland is proud of its heritage library architecture. Aalto University Harald Herlin Learning Centre, Otaniemi, won the 2017 Finlandia Prize for Architecture, successfully “introducing new types of learning into the building while respecting Aalto’s architecture.”

The greening of libraries

When Designing Libraries started, library design which incorporated energy saving measures was the exception. Now green and sustainable library design is essential to every project.

IFLA has inaugurated an annual Green Library Award, won in 2017 by Stadtsbibliothek Bad Oldesloe Library. This award winning library’s three year project, ‘Harvest your City’, has a commitment to a  green and sustainable library, including gardening projects, provision of makerspaces and community building efforts. 2018 sees the first International Green Libraries Conference: Let’s Go Green, which is being held in Zagreb.

The Hive was designed with many features to minimise energy use across its lifetime and a powerful building management system to regulate them. Colliers Wood has solar panels and a green sedum roof. For users  there are electric car recharging points and bicycle parking. Fleet has seen improvements in the library’s energy footprint, including the provision of low energy lighting and automatic taps.

A space for everyone

Many of the references in this and the previous article illustrate how new services, new demands and new opportunities are reshaping library spaces and public perceptions of the library as a space for all. Inclusive design is as much a consideration for sustaining universal access as the design for sustainable buildings is for their long term environmental impact. Merton is a good example of a service-wide commitment to community engagement and dementia-friendly services in particular. Great Sankey Neighbourhood Hub, Warrington, is believed to be the first fully integrated, dementia- friendly wellbeing building and public library in the UK. The University for the Creative Arts is a good example of a commitment to high levels of provision and support for students with disabilities.

A space for children and young people

Just as we have all grown up with a particular type of library, the child’s experience of a ‘modern’ library will influence its perceptions through a lifetime of choices. Good children’s library design is not hard to find, and is fortunately one of the areas in which we generally succeed very well. Trends in library design for young people can be explored in highlights from some of Designing Libraries news stories brought together in Spaces for kids.

The Word exemplifies what can be done with more open and flexible spaces that can accommodate immersive story times, robotics and maker spaces, and interactive exhibitions. The new children’s library in Shanghai is like a giant toy you can lose yourself in. But perhaps the most revolutionary example of a dedicated library for young people is Biblo Tøyen: a library just for kids, a fun space, and a slightly chaotic space. Will this be the shape of things to come?

Final thoughts

The original and continuing vision for Designing Libraries can be summarised as facilitating the discovery of inspiring examples of library design and disseminating them. Those examples also illustrate just how thoughtful and imaginative design is helping take libraries into new continents of discovery and creativity. As spaces and the services offered both inside and outside the building change, the roles of staff are changing too. People are more important than buildings, and people include staff. As Laura Worsfold of The Hive has said, “the staff  are exemplary and without them The Hive would be just another very impressive piece of architecture.”

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