Libraries for Librarians
Today’s libraries are so much more than stacks of books and magazines. Indeed, they have become de facto community centers where all are welcome to learn, grow and engage with each other. While designing a functional and inclusive library is always an exciting challenge, it also demands a keen sense of balance. As designers, we must weigh the needs of the many different users and patrons of these treasured community institutions: from young children seeking to expand their minds through fiction and college students working on term papers, to job seekers looking for resources and local groups needing space to meet.
But while it’s important to meet the many, varied needs of a library’s patrons, it’s equally critical to consider the priorities of the guardians of knowledge themselves: Librarians. A library’s staff is perhaps the most important element of the facility, responsible for managing the wealth of material, organizing events, and assisting visitors with an expansive list of tasks.
How do firms like SHP work to make the lives of librarians easier? Let’s take a look at some of the key elements we consider when designing or renovating community libraries.
Clear wayfinding and navigation are essential elements of any workplace—but especially so for librarians, who manage a laundry list of responsibilities and assist dozens of patrons each day. Along with helping students find obscure sources, assisting adult learners with technology, and maintaining a vast collection of materials and resources, librarians are also responsible for planning programs, holding seminars, managing employees and volunteers and so much more.
To that end, libraries should be designed with the need for visibility at the forefront, so librarians and other staff can easily greet guests, check in on meeting spaces and conference rooms and easily identify patrons who might need assistance. SHP’s design for the Lane Libraries’ Oxford, OH branch reflects this unique need; we specifically incorporated wide-open spaces with limited walls for a beautiful, visually-connected space that gives librarians the visibility they need.
Multiple access points
One of the hallmarks of your classic library? The famed “circulation desk” or service desk near the library entrance, where patrons can check out materials, return overdue books or seek assistance from a librarian. A typically large and inflexible fixture that serves to orient visitors and allow them to interact with staff, the service desk is a longstanding element of virtually every library in the world. But as the purpose of the modern library evolves to more strongly focus on people, so should its design.
Depending on the space and priorities of library staff, we’ve found value in incorporating multiple access points throughout the space in lieu of a centralized service desk. Whether these access points are kiosks, desks, or other fixtures, they allow for greater flexibility and more meaningful interactions between library staff and patrons.
The library of today is so much more than stacks of books and dusty card catalogs. In fact, one national survey found that libraries actually serve as “digital equity hubs” that bridge gaps in technology access. It’s no surprise that you can find a wealth of state-of-the-art technology throughout many of the libraries that SHP has designed, from laptops and specialized software to high-end makerspaces.
However, as a public institution that is inclusive and accessible to all, any technology within the library should be intuitive and easy to use, both for guests and for library staff alike. After all, with so many other responsibilities on their plate, today’s librarians don’t realistically have the time to train new hires and volunteers on complicated software or computer systems. That’s why we have a dedicated technology consultant on our team at SHP—someone who takes the lead on communicating and coordinating with end users of any project to ensure that the technology installed meets their needs and is easy to use.
The public library provides such invaluable services and resources to the community—but we also recognize the critical role that librarians play in keeping these essential institutions running smoothly. So, while library staff continue/s to meet the needs of its/their patrons and add incredible value to the community, we’ll be here to make their lives easier day to day.