From electrical outlets to books: reinventing library spaces

The physical library space is changing to reflect the new services and interactions customers expect.

Modern libraries are offering an array of new services and experiences for their customers. Huge opportunities for technology have aided all of this and certainly created a virtual world for library use. But there is also a huge demand for physical library space, space that reflects these services and can be flexible, attractive, comfortable and welcoming. There is a growing trend for new and reconfigured library buildings, which creates both opportunities and challenges.

Most libraries, particularly university and public, still have a balance of print and electronic resources. Unlike traditional libraries, book stacks are not always the most prominent resource in the space. Technological solutions have helped store books in the library and create space for new services. An increasingly popular solution is an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), which is a robotic device to store and retrieve books quickly and safely. This photograph is one arm of an ASRS called Roobot, located at the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in the United States.

The library as a space is continually evolving. In universities, there is a strong need for collaborative spaces as well as quiet areas. Various student learning styles can be accommodated. Technology has made self-service a viable option, freeing staff for other tasks and allowing the customers more autonomy.

The new style of library has its challenges. For example, one that is growing and still needs a creative solution is the need for electrical outlets, or sockets, to charge the wide variety of devices used by students and public library customers. Furniture of various sorts can be wired, and outlets and USB ports installed. This is a good solution for static furnishings and design. The problem lies with the increasingly flexible design of library furnishings and spaces. The following photograph, also from the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Miller Nichols Library, illustrates one creative way of providing flexible power to an area. In this example long cords with two outlets attached are mounted from the ceiling and pulled down when necessary.

Sharon L. Bostick, PhD is Dean of Libraries, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, USA.  She will be speaking about 'reinventing library spaces' in Session B105 of Internet Librarian International on 15th October 2013.