There are overlaps between libraries and other spaces and services. The boundaries are blurring. Managing Director, Gemma John, talks about the overlaps between libraries and workspaces.

In this presentation, three main topics are addressed:

  • Experience matters - why experience matters more than ever
  • Designing libraries - how libraries are being designed for 21st century
  • Blurred boundaries - the overlap between between the library and the workplace

Experience matters

Why does experience matter?

  • Digital technology - people can work anywhere, anytime
  • They have more choice
  • The built environment is no longer about 4 walls and a door
  • Space is now a service

The onus on the service provider to understand what the customer wants. This is of course having an impact on how libraries are being designed…

Over the last 3 years, I’ve visited 50+ buildings in Europe, North America, Australia and Singapore. I was interested in finding out more about: the vision for public libraries; the architecture and interior design of public libraries; the customer experience.

I started my travel in Europe - visiting well known new and recently renovated building - Netherlands, Denmark, Finland - Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver, Halifax and Calgary. Can you spot any libraries you recognise?

And ended up in Australia and Singapore where I visited branch and central libraries across Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne, Geelong, and Brisbane. Can you spot any libraries you recognise?

For the purpose of this talk, I’m going to focus on:

  • The changing culture: How the rules for how people use and engage with libraries are changing
  • New services: How technology is playing a role in the provision of services
  • Evolving design: How libraries are designed for contemporary use

First, changing culture...

There are 3 main areas I’d like to focus on:

1. Connection

We know that libraries are places where people ‘connect’ with the collection and each other. Putting experience of the customer first. Books are no longer a precious commodity.

2. Ownership

Libraries are places where customers are encouraged to take ownership, and make decisions. Partly as a result of staff shortage but also to encourage customer participation in design and delivery of spaces and services.

3. Personalisation

Libraries are places where customers are supported at an individual level. Staff are ‘more’ spontaneous. They are reactive rather than involved in proactive timetabling.

Second, changing service provision...

We need to mention the automation of services - self-check out and so forth. Singapore has taken this one step further with its app, which customers can use to: reserve books; pay fines; scan bar code for instant borrowing. Staff no longer front of house. Rather, collect and organise information back of house, which is ‘pushed’ at user. This is a hands-off delivery of information service.

Third, changing design...

How are libraries being designed today to meet the changing needs of their users? I'd like to focus on three aspects:

1. Integration

Libraries part of the fabric of the city. Easier to access and use - near transport links, in shopping malls, part of service centres.

2. Openness

Libraries remove barriers to access - and sometimes even remove the security gates! They often have large entrances or foyers so that customers can see all floors in the building, and are designed with a clear patron path, clear lines of sight and lower bookshelves for visibility. This encourages connectivity and community.

3. Adaptation

Flexibility allows for libraries to change over time in response to changing communities.  

So, I’d like to touch on the changing use of libraries, with particular attention to libraries as workspaces.

People can work anywhere, anytime...

There are new spaces available for them where they can do so:

  • Coffee shops
  • Co-working spaces
  • Airports
  • Business centres

As individuals are more mobile, and choosing to work closer to home or near their clients, so the library is becoming an office.

Tukka is a sustainable tourism guide in Helsinki. He told me that Library 10 is a great place to work. It provides him with opportunity to run his business close to his customers.  It has everything that he needs… and he even holds business meetings there. He’s not the only one. When I was in Helsinki, there were people hot-desking everywhere, even in the children’s area. The manager calls it the urban office, and caters for these customers by supplying bookable partitions, and basic office equipment.

Other libraries, like the central library in Halifax in Canada, cater for freelancers, entrepreneurs, students. People have the option of working in the cafe on the ground floor or in the quiet reading area on the top floor. The range of settings in the library reflects those provided in the modern workplace.

Woollahra library in Sydney is designed to cater for a growing number of freelancers, entrepreneurs, students. When I was in Sydney, I worked in the enclosed study rooms on the top floor, away from the noise emanating from the ground floor.

And, in the same way that libraries are accommodating a growing number of freelancers, entrepreneurs, students, so libraries in the workplace provide individuals with an alternative setting. Arup Library is part of Arup University, and won the Australia Library and Information Association design award in 2018.

Should your library become a workplace? How do you improve your library service and space?

Three considerations...

1. Collect data

Ask yourself: Who visits the library, how often, what do they do?

2. Simplicity matters

Design space that is adaptable and flexible, and can be changed over time

3. Always innovate

Don’t be afraid to try out new things

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