I met with our architects today for the redesign of our library/research center. We’ve been working on the plans for several months now, trying to create a new space that fits the philosophy of our library more closely. (I always say we have a 21st century library in a 19th century space!)
The plans are coming to fruition and it’s exciting to see, and to get the opportunity to have so much input into the whole design and process. Although the librarian should have a lot of input into a space, sometimes it doesn’t happen that way, so I feel grateful that this has all been coming together so positively.
The philosophy behind the library design is to remove “barriers” to students and staff and to create an inviting, flexible, and open place for student research, study, and collaboration. I’ve been reading widely (especially Christian Long and DesignShare ideas), surveyed students, toured some schools and libraries, and also have been trying to really notice design everywhere I go.
I’ve found ideas everywhere, from shops in Austin, to restaurants, to the Coca Cola museum in Atlanta, to High Tech High School in San Diego, and from other innovative library spaces. In fact, if you are doing a project like this, take your camera with you everywhere you go, because you’ll find ideas in the most unexpected places.
The photo below of a shop window in Austin inspired a display idea, for example.
So here’s a “window” onto some of the design and planning.
One way we’re going to open up our library is visually. The library currently has a low ceiling, and some windows but not a lot of natural light. The new space will incorporate a lot of windows, a raised roof, but also glass inside, like transparent glass walls or some plexiglass dividers.
We’re planning to incorporate a lot of art, but with glass walls that may be difficult, so we’ve also been talking a lot about using the walls as idea surfaces, like the example above.
A new glass hallway connecting the library to the main part of the campus gives us the opportunity to make the library more of a hub, since previous construction has moved the cafeteria and other spaces away from the library, and we’re not as central as we once were. So we’re hoping to use the glass hallway for transparent glass display cases, visible from the library and the hallway,and also to display quotations which we can have put onto the glass wall, or even use the glass as a projection surface, where we could project quotes or digital art straight onto the glass that would shine into the hallway.
The architects have asked me to start brainstorming key words or ideas that we might want to include in terms of featuring these words in the actual design. (So if you have any you’d like to share, please post them on the blog!)
In the interior of the library, the computer labs will have glass windows, and even connecting classrooms will be glass. To make some of these spaces more flexible, they will have sliding glass walls so that we can open them out to the library or open two rooms up to each other, like our computer lab and our class area. I’m trying to plan for the day we may not need a “lab” for computers, when every student has one, and make the space more flexible.
I’m also trying to break up the barrier of the “circulation” desk or front desk, which is sort of an monolithic island that divides most libraries into “staff” and “student” areas. Today I think we had a good breakthrough on that. The architects’ office actually has a really interesting curved office desk that is moveable, rather than being a huge fixed piece of furniture. But it’s plenty long enough to accommodate circulation functions and the undulating curves create a couple of different workspaces to accommodate multiple staff. But instead of being this huge structure, it’ll feel more like a welcoming desk, as well as a workspace for the staff. And it’s flexible. I’m hoping this idea works, because it felt like a breakthrough.
Another barrier reducing plan is to do signage that is more functional for our students; rather than using as much Dewey signage, we are planning more bookstore type of signage.
Students specifically requested some comfortable seating areas or gathering areas, and some quiet areas, so we are creating some niches for quiet reading or studying. (Because though many people think libraries are quiet, ours is busy and extremely loud!)
Another thing I’m excited about is that we are hoping to use quite a few natural materials or green materials in the construction, so we can model good environmental practices for our students in the very building. We saw a great outdoor courtyard at a library in San Antonio (John Jay) which gave us the idea to build a deck off of the side of the library in this little nook we already had. And we’re going to do some green building with the help of our PTO to provide shade cover there.
I hope that as we finish, we can design a sign or poster that shows what recycled materials were used in the building of the space, and use that as a learning tool also.
It’s a fascinating process trying to match the form and the function and try to rethink our space in terms of what it could be, not what it has been. As the quote in the window pictured above says, “What you make is important.”
I’m envisioning that when we’re done making this space, we’ll have a bright, engaging, whimsical, and flexible learning space that encourages innovation, creativity, reading, and research. After reading Daniel Pink’s Whole New Mind and working on this renovation, I’ve been much more attentive to the idea of design and what it adds to our experiences. And I hope that by taking the time to think through the design, all of those of us who are involved are teaching our students that what people make is important, and that thoughtfulness and craft and design contribute something important.