Narrative Box 10

7– Create versatile spaces

The pace of technology change and the behavioral shifts it drives means that versatile spaces, easily adaptable from one mode to another while maintaining their intrinsic character, are instrumental to the future viability of the library.

8 – Invest in strategic partnerships

With collections increasingly available digitally, floor space for seating, collaborative work areas, and new “tenants” opens up. In the past decade, as programmatic diversity has exploded, libraries have forged new alliances and partnerships that add vitality to the library, create opportunities for new synergies, and increase the gate count. An explosion of partner programs has emerged within libraries – writing centers, centers for teaching and learning, tutoring centers, language labs, career centers, counseling centers, media centers, general use classrooms, among others — all pointed toward student-scholar success.


The Jones Architecture Library of Academic Libraries

Approximately half the libraries in our database date from the last decade, and the balance from before that time. This 10-year window gives us a good inflection point that we use to understand current and established trends in library design and planning. Although concentrated in New England, the spectrum of academic libraries that we survey spans the country. Jones’ “library library” captures information ranging from hours of operation, volumes, periodicals, vintage or renovation history to detailed notes on partner programs. Key components include:

People. Our survey spans colleges and universities whose undergraduate FTE populations range from 1,500 to more than 40,000, with an average around 6,000.

Culture. Our survey includes small liberal arts colleges, private schools, public schools, major land grant universities, and military institutions. Each institution has a specific character and sense of place, and it is this rich diversity that can support the vast spectrum of student personalities that populate the American academic landscape. This cultural diversity can drive differentiation and unique conditions within the library that are best captured anecdotally. This is precisely why our methodology is to visit each campus in person so we can witness these conditions firsthand.

Seat Count. A critical benchmark for guiding our design process, we survey the total seat count in the library and evaluate that against the undergraduate FTE population.

Seat Type. More important than simple quantity, the blend of seat types is critical. For example, five hundred seats, 80% of which are study carrels, create a particular character for the library. To that end, we track seven seat types: carrels, desks, workstations, soft seating, open table, group study, and instruction. Shifts in this blend have occurred over the past 20 years. The trend toward more group study, soft seating, and instruction space is now well established, having moved away from carrels, desks, and workstations. Open table study (the classic “reading room” environment) remains a persistent model.

Service Point Administration. Existing library service points were historically distributed — reference desk, circulation desk, and other specialty functions arrayed around the main floor and entry. Increasingly, we are seeing “super-desks” where the first point of contact for library patrons can answer 90% of the questions that may arise. This cross-trained point person can re-direct more specialized questions to the right librarian as needed. Not only a more efficient staffing model, it also gives clarity to patrons as they go to one place for everything.