Public Library Buildings: The Future; A Harvard Seminar Explores Inner Spaces

Article excerpt

What will public libraries look like in 20 years? A seminar titled "Planning Public Library Buildings" brought together librarians and architects from all over the United States January 11-13 to explore this issue with leaders in the field at the Harvard Design School's Executive Education department in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The seminar involved discussions and observations on emerging trends in public library design and was led by Nolan Lushington, author of Libraries Designed for Users: A 21st Century Guide (Neal-Schuman, 2002); A. Anthony Tappe and Jeffrey M. Hoover, architects with Tappe Associates in Boston; and Elisabeth Martin, an architect with MDA Design Group International in New York City and former director of planning and design for the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Public Library. Their advice: Provide a variety of spaces and a variety of choices, and you provide the best service to your community.

A variety of spaces and choices

Public libraries are not simply storage facilities for materials, the instructors emphasized. They are and will continue to be meeting places, education centers, and access points for state-of-the-art technologies. Programming areas, conference centers, courtyards, and cafes are becoming increasingly important to the modern public library as users demand new services. The retail environment often influences library design; how people shop can provide librarians with insights into the form and placement of service spaces.

For example, administrators in one library decided that attracting local business people was a primary goal, so they created a business and technology center with a space where local entrepreneurs could make photocopies, send faxes, and go online with a high-speed internet connection. The library is becoming an "economic engine and a catalyst for growth," said Lushington.

Statistics also indicate that children and youth service areas frequently account for up to 50% of a library's overall circulation. One fast-growing trend is the creation of teen-friendly library spaces. "It's important to get input from this user group," said Martin. "The goal is to create a space that's inviting without creating a 'clubhouse' environment."

In a world dominated by television and the internet, public libraries are compelled to provide online databases with 24/7 availability, digital resources, viewing and listening stations for audiovisual materials, and public-access computers. These specialized services require customized spaces, function-specific furnishings, and complex electrical plans and lighting arrangements. …