Libraries Must Also Be Buildings? New Library Impact Study

Article excerpt

by Jared Bryson, Bob Usherwood and Richard Proctor London, resource: the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries 2003

The report can be downloaded from www.resource. gov.uk/information/publications/00pubs.asp

In the literature of public library buildings a good deal of attention has been paid in recent years to justifying the need for, or the extent of, a physical presence for the library. There was an early belief that library space could be pared back on the assumption that users would stay at home to access what they needed on the internet--the 'library in your living room' rather than the 'living room at your library' model. Nothing is ever that simple, and qualitative research of one kind or another has supported the view that libraries as a place have an increasingly significant role in the life of communities, space and other resources permitting. A safe place to go: libraries and social capital (Sydney, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, and the State Library of New South Wales 2000 www.sl.nsw.gov.au/plb/ publications/pdf/safe_place.pdf) is just one local example of such recent findings.

Diversity and demand

We know that library building use has become more diverse, that demand has become more sophisticated and that user expectations have risen. This has led us to reassess space requirements and, as has been shown by another local example People places: a guide for library buildings in New South Wales (Sydney, Library Council of NSW 2000 www.slnsw.gov.au/plb/ publications/pdf/people_places.pdf) the conclusion is that libraries need not less space, but more--and space which is more varied, adaptable and responsive to changing community needs. A new generation of public library buildings is resulting, not because of architectural trends, but because of a detailed analysis of our communities and the environment in which our communities are operating. The results of such analysis are reflected in demand for space for services or facilities which are now as much part of the public library landscape as electronic and print materials: learning shops, training centres, discussion rooms and 'quiet' rooms, links or partnerships with other facilities on the same site, spaces for lifelong learning and other areas where the community can gather, often informally, to self educate, recreate, communicate or simply cogitate.

Planning

Much attention has rightly been devoted to front end planning. Those involved consult more widely than ever, assess the needs of their communities, visit other libraries, talk to colleagues and scan the literature. Once projects get under way library managers work hard to get things right, often involving client groups and their peers in the process, checking the validity of early assumptions and solutions. Then there is the adrenalin rush of the lead up to completion of construction, the euphoria of the opening and the sometimes anticlimactic experiences during the defect liability period. After that there is the opportunity--too rarely taken--for a holistic evaluation of the facility, working through problems which have emerged during the first months or years of occupancy and identifying potential improvements. This is an opportunity not only to find out if the building works as a building, but also whether it has met the objectives and aspirations which were expressed so long before, at the early planning stage. Has our belief in the library as a significant place in the community proved well founded, once the building is there? How well have we translated this belief into reality? Do they love their new library? Are we meeting community needs? Is the new library having the desired effect on the community? Answers to such questions can help us amend and adapt facilities and services in the library in question. But a broad study of a cross section of recent library projects would also provide some touchstones for library managers and architects about to embark on a new project. …