A Balancing Act: Shared Spaces in Libraries

By Throgmorton, Kaitlin | American Libraries, November-December 2016 | Go to article overview

A Balancing Act: Shared Spaces in Libraries


Throgmorton, Kaitlin, American Libraries


Imagine walking into a building and seeing a florist, a hair salon, and an art gallery. Would you guess you're in a library?

Probably not, but at the Salt Lake City Public Library, that's exactly what you'll encounter. "Having any of these within a flagship library is a unique arrangement," says Andrew Shaw, the library's communications manager. In addition, a cafe, a coffee shop, a public radio station, a writing center, and a library store occupy the first floor, steps from the main library entrance.

While the library is the main focus, this mixed-use space "gives each visitor a sense of destination, of experience," says Shaw.

What first attracted Lyndon Tan, owner of The English Garden flower shop, to the library? "The idea of community and retail coming together," he says. His business has been at the library since its inception, and in that time, Tan has watched as "this new library really became the living room of the community."

Through the library, the shop also offers classes on flower arrangements and gardening. Then, too, the location has given the business lots of exposure. "We get a lot of walk-in traffic," he says.

Shared space in the college library

Community and commodity regularly intersect on college campuses, and North Carolina State University (NCSU) is no exception. NCSU's main library, the D. H. Hill Library, has housed a coffee shop and an ice-cream parlor for more than a decade, so when the university began planning the James B. Hunt Jr. Library, the notion that it, too, would contain shared space was already a given.

Two spaces inside the new library offer important amenities: Common Grounds Cafe, owned by the university dining system, and the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI), a nonpartisan public-policy organization developed by the state governor for whom the library is named.

To encourage library use, students are allowed to bring food and drink inside. "If you walk through Hunt Library at 6 or 7 at night, you'll see pizza boxes," says Chris Tonelli, director of communication strategy for NCSU libraries.

The IEI provides traffic and essential event space to the library. "As much as we like to think that everyone knows about Hunt Library," not everyone knows that "IEI does all sorts of events with people from all over the place, from young schoolchildren to big conferences," says Patrick Deaton, associate director of learning spaces and capital management for NCSU Libraries.

Library as "third place"

For more than 20 years, the citizens of Austin, Texas, have yearned for a bigger, more modern central public library. …

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