Time and space. The foundations of our universe. Both up for negotiation as modern libraries expand horizons, venture into new dimensions and evolve to meet the needs of communities today. In 2018, library design must consider emerging technologies, the rapid digitisation of content, 24/7 access to information, immersive education experiences and the Internet of Things. Like any explorer, the modern librarian is charting new conceptual, physical and virtual places in the contemporary – and future – eras of digital communities and public education.
Changing technology is converging with social evolution (multiculturalism, sustainability and makers movements) to form a new library design paradigm where traditional service propositions hold less or different relevance. Dropping visitation demands that libraries restate their claim as community centres; to reconnect with communities in the ways that matter most to them, build social cohesion, and use their unique assets and expertise to address real community problems. Within this world of challenges awaits an uncharted space of opportunities for libraries to discovery new strategies, tools, ideas and paradigms of service. The journey starts with inventive, informed and open library design.
The challenges to solve with library design
A recent survey found that even library members, who don’t currently use their local branch, think that libraries are important. This suggests that people value and align with the purpose of libraries, but don’t necessarily find that the services and experiences currently offered fully embrace and deliver on that purpose. Libraries need to bridge this gap if they are to prosper.
Declining funding through traditional channels combined with lower visitation rates is creating increased competition and reduced ability to demonstrate value. Libraries need new strategies to generate sustainable income.
The increasing integration of diverse cultures into urban communities requires libraries to rethink and expand the services they offer. As communities redefine their collective identity, libraries can play a key role in developing it.
The increasing digitisation of content, with all-hour access, across multiple mobile devices, requires the traditional service proposition of physical storage to be reconsidered. With more content available than ever, the roles of libraries and librarians are evolving into knowledge stewards, facilitators, teachers and content managers. Access at all times must be considered to suit a perenially connected community.
Multiple arenas of technology are advancing at rapid rates; artificial intelligence, big data, virtual reality, augmented reality, the internet of things, decentralised blockchain networks, drones, robotics, 3-D printing, and more. The convergence of these advancements requires libraries to consider the real and virtual spaces they create for learning and the methods in which they present information.
The opportunities to grasp with library design
Co-design is a collaborative process where community solutions are designed by the communities that need them. Using human-centred design and behavioral insights methodology, co-design produces outcomes that have deeper relevance to end users. Libraries using co-design to create solutions will discover their communities have a wealth of ideas and actionable insights.
Measurement of social impact will be critical for libraries as they expand and redefine their unique value, and demonstrate this to funders or investors. Measuring impact also means understanding it, and informing strategies that motivate employees and change the conversation with users.
Ethical consumerism is on the rise as people seek to supports brands, products and services that deliver positive social and environmental benefits. Clearly articulating the good that libraries already do, their commitment to positive outcomes, and meeting changing community needs, is a powerful generator of support and community integration.
There is great potential for libraries to expand beyond their traditional role. Education for the homeless, employment centres, performance spaces, volunteer groups, meet-ups, health and wellbeing, galleries, intergenerational activities, creative studios, emerging tech hubs, skill sharing centres, gaming, maker workshops, bicycle repairs, partnerships with garden centres – the sky is the limit for service innovations. Responding to changing community needs will attract new streams of visitation.
Creating spaces and services to support the community to design and facilitate events, activities, and workshops further enhances libraries as community centres and pillars of social cohesion. Understanding the forces that contribute to community perception of physical spaces (place identity) and the models that can be used for place identity evaluation, will determine gaps in community needs, and opportunities for creative placemaking.
The next move
Getting started is actually quite easy. Get the right people in the room, design a process for your particular internal/external context, use creative and inventive facilitation techniques to establish questions and get answers, and then develop strategies and models that are fit for purpose. The goal is to start with focus and then scale on the back of demonstrable results, new partnerships and reinvested returns, over time.
We’ve worked with cultural institutions such as Lake Mac Libraries, Federation Square and State Library Victoria. We match deep knowledge of, and networks in, the library, education and cultural sectors with industry leading competencies in user research, co-design, digital user experience (UX), impact strategy, communication and identity development.
We hold an unrelenting drive to create unique solutions that change people, and the communities around them, for the better. The opportunities are lining up. It’s your move.