Three Lessons for Libraries

Libraries aren’t just major assets intended to serve a neighborhood for decades—they’re often the very heart of a community. Investing in new and renovated facilities can be as intimidating as it is exciting. And with all the change libraries have faced, it’s more important than ever to confidently plan for the future. SHP has been designing and building libraries since 1901. Here are three lessons we’ve learned about successfully reimagining the heart of the community.

1. Invent the Future

Some “experts” have been predicting the demise of libraries for years; it seems every time some new media form comes along, some suggest libraries are on the verge of extinction. Yet advancements in technology—even a global pandemic unlike any other in recent history—haven’t meant the end of libraries. Far from it! Rather, such changes and challenges have only inspired libraries to serve their communities in new ways.

Today’s libraries don’t just offer a gateway to knowledge; they serve as active stewards of their communities. From social services support to makerspaces, entertainment to community-building, libraries are thriving—and will continue to do so—because, in short, they encourage learning as a life-long, life-wide, life-deep™ endeavor.

To stay relevant to the communities they serve, libraries continuously consider emerging technologies and trends. It’s a tremendous responsibility. And because libraries are so often supported primarily through taxpayer dollars, it’s one they take seriously. That means peering into the crystal ball to see what challenges lie around the corner—and finding ways to proactively address them.

In other words, libraries—and those who lead them—have to predict the future.

Sounds impossible, right? Wrong. We have learned it *IS* possible to predict the future, in part because we work with our clients to invent it. It’s important to be an active participant in designing the future, not just a bystander the future happens to.

Our proprietary visioning process helps our library clients—and their team of stakeholders—imagine the future they need to plan for and build. Whether it’s enchanting, irresistible early childhood spaces or collaborative, flexible meeting spaces, we ensure facilities are community-focused, future-ready and adaptable enough to meet the unique needs of both the community and a rapidly changing world.

2. Win Hearts and Minds

“I’ve spent my career running libraries and now I’m being asked to run a political campaign. How and where do I even begin?”

In many cases, reimagining and realizing the future of a library and its place in the community is dependent on the support libraries receive at the ballot box. But running a political campaign—converting voters into a firm YES—is a challenging, time-consuming process.

We know what you’re probably thinking: “I’ve spent my entire career running libraries and now I’m being asked to run a political campaign. How and where do I even begin??!!”

Running a successful campaign begins with leveraging publicly available information on each and every voter in the community. Identifying target voters and recognizing trends: these insights allow a library’s campaign to develop a unique outreach plan to identify and motivate potential advocates. From there, we encourage our library clients to commit to a unified communication strategy that will spread their message, rally the community and build momentum toward the successful passage of their ballot issue.

3. Invest Now, Save Later

When a levy fails—and sometimes, against even the best odds, it does—it’s time to go to Plan B: maintaining existing assets. But when it comes to making the most of a capital improvements budget, libraries are faced with bigger challenges than what kind of light bulb is in the hallway or when the roof is scheduled for maintenance.

To figure out what investments to make now that can save dollars in the long run, ask existential questions like:

  • Which priorities are the most important to the community?
  • How can physical space impact programs, patrons and staff?
  • What’s the right timeline to make it all happen?
  • What operational realities stand in the way of achieving the vision?

From there, it’s important for libraries to consider how their physical sites, structures, systems and general conditions impact their specific needs. They should analyze maintenance practices, ADA and code compliance, energy use and long-term sustainability factors. They should understand how utility and governing agency restrictions, neighborhood influences, site limitations and technological advances will influence design decisions. Comprehensive physical and aerial assessments will identify opportunities to improve building integrity, space utilization, landscape design and infrastructure.


This laundry list is a lot to consider, but it’s critical. By putting all their needs into context, libraries will be able to determine—or adapt—their list of must-haves, nice-to-haves and not-necessaries.

Of course, if all of this sounds overwhelming, you can call SHP to help. Library design is a cornerstone of our Community Studio. From master planning and strategic futurecasting, to levy campaign assistance and thoughtful design, we have had the opportunity—and the pleasure—to be a part of the future of libraries for decades. When you work with SHP, you benefit from our unmatched experience, deep industry expertise and genuine passion for what we do. We can develop a strategic plan to prioritize your needs in a clear and communicable way so you can be confident you’re making the right decisions at the right time… and realize an exciting new future.

For even more insights into how we think, download a copy of our whitepaper, 5,000 Years of Adaptability: The Proud Past and Bright Future of Libraries, in which we examine how libraries have evolved to meet current needs while preparing for what’s coming next. Click here for instant access.