Libraries, Technology

A possible layout for a one floor library

One Floor Library Plan

As I child, I used to love to create maps. I think a lot of it stemmed from my love of video games like Sim City. But in those moments where I couldn’t build a virtual world, I always had a pencil, a ruler, and a piece of paper to map out some city or kingdom.

I thought it would be neat to revisit this hobby but instead of building a city I’d look at how I’d build my own library. What I’m posting here is just my idea for what I’d like a one floor library to look like if I could build my own public library. I chose to focus on the overall theme of the building instead of dwelling on the specifics. If you were gonna build your own one floor library, what would yours look like?

1. Seating/Atrium
A key element for me with modern public libraries is seating. Whether it be to sit down to read, use wifi, play a portable video game, or more, seating is key to making any of these functions work. I like the idea of having an area dedicated to this right in front of the library (an idea I borrowed from my own place of work) where people can relax, use their devices, make phone calls, and more. There’s nothing neater than walking into a library full of bright and vibrant people.

2. Security/Maintenance
Security in a public library is key to making things run smoothly. I have come to have a lot of respect for library security since I started at my place of work in 2010. No matter the size of your library, you will most likely run into your own unique set of security related issues. Sometimes libraries can handle these issues with a staff of one, and other times it takes more of a team to make thing work. No matter your situation, I believe it is a wise idea to dedicate a space to library security related issues. It can also be used as a lost/found area and more.

3. Circulation
The library circulation department is the heart of the library and without it functioning properly everything else will stop. Perhaps my belief in the importance of circulation stems from the fact that I started out in libraries working behind the circulation desk, but its significance cannot be downplayed. Returns, holds, information, and everything else in between, circulation does it all. That’s why I dedicated such a large space to this particular area. Personally, I’m into self pickup shelves for holds, open desks which the community can come up behind the ask questions, and a combination of self checkout machines and staff present for check outs. To me, the circulation department should be open for staff to interact with the community and for the community to use the area alone if they wish.

4. Returns
Consider this an extension of the circulation area, yet at the same time it’s own mini area. I was really impressed by the returns section at the Erie County Library (Erie, PA) when I worked there between 2006-2008. It was set up like a backroom where all of the items that were returned to the library came via conveyor belt for check in, inspection, and to be placed on carts that could be taken away for reshelving. It was a very efficient and organized system, so I incorporated that into my plans for this one floor library.

5. New and Popular Materials
For this area, I was influenced by supermarkets and the trend to place items that they consider their most popular (I always notice these sections having milk, eggs, butter, bread, etc) up at the front of the store. Mix in the newest items that the library has purchased (which are also usually very popular items) and with that you have a section in your library dedicated to the items that will get the most circulation.

6. Other materials
Where do you put all of the other materials in the library? My plan is to keep them all together. One of the things I’ve noticed working at a public service desk over the years is how patrons generally dislike moving from section to section in order to find what they’re looking for. Do you want Lord of the Rings in print, audiobook, and Blu Ray? Why not put those materials in one handy location for people to browse?

The only downside to having this type of area is how library staff will need to be on their toes more to make sure the area reflects what the community really wants. Weeding will need to occur on an ongoing basis, and the collections are going to need to be in tip-top shape in order to remain relevant.

7. Meeting/Study Rooms
I have seen the two study rooms in my teen library become THE PLACE to be at my library over the past few years. They’re reserved for teens ages 12-19 and their mentors/tutors (if they are working with an adult). One of the biggest questions I face at the teen services desk is “where are the meeting/study rooms for adults?” I see the demand for these types of rooms just increasing in the next few years.

That’s why I’ve included eight of these rooms in this library plan. The more space dedicated to giving the community a place to meet, the better. In my opinion, these rooms should be open to the public for free (unless there are special events, in which case, the rooms could be rented to help the library with maintaining the rooms).

8. Quiet Area
Every library should have a quiet area. Part of my belief in this is steeped in library tradition, and the other part of it comes from knowing that there is (and will always be) a section of your community that desires a quiet area. This is the place for that population.

9. Teen Library
10. Children’s Library
I’m writing about the Teen and Children’s Libraries together because there’s so much in common with these two areas: they both serve a very distinct population, they both work together in helping a new generation become literate (reading, writing, playing, and more), and they both always operate best when they’re considered to be “mini libraries in a library.” I’ve always viewed the teen libraries that I’ve managed as being part of the library system as a whole but also at their own mini branch. I see the Children’s Library that way as well. When you have this kind of focus, you’re able to best meet the needs of the people that are using you. In my teen library, only teens ages 12-19 are welcome to use the area. Other age groups can come into the teen library to browse and borrow materials, but the space remains reserved for just the specific group. It’s the same way for our children’s library.

Setting aside space for these two very important groups is key, not only in helping the library best serve these populations but also for the sake of the rest of the library….as anyone knows, children and teens can be loud! Giving them their own space in the library lets these groups do what they do best…act like kids and teens!

11. Technology Help Center
A few days ago I posted about this topic (you can read about it here) and in this plan I’m taking what I said to a new level. I’d like to create my own Technology Help Center in the library. Eli Neiburger said that “libraries need more geeks” back in April 2011 and I still agree with him. With this space, I hope to develop two things. The first part is a help center where the community can visit for help with any technology that they are using (for the pros and cons of this approach, I recommend this great discussion on Branch). The second part is to fill the library staff with, as Eli Neiburger puts it, a bunch of geeks. This staff could be used to help the library move ahead digitally. They could develop programs and tools for the library to use (and possibly license to other libraries). They could also teach classes on programming, digital literacy, technology help, and more.

12. Library Cafe
I never understood why libraries didn’t allow food and drink in the library. Once I became a for real librarian, I did understand (why? Those reference books are so expensive and hard to replace!) but I still don’t agree. Anyone could borrow our materials, take them home, and for example, cover them in bacon. Yet we do not ask patrons to keep food and drink away from our materials at home. With that, I’m all for a library cafe that serves food and drink to the community.

I never drank coffee until I started working in a library, and now I usually have one cup in the morning and a banana when I start my work day. It’s oddly comforting and relaxing. This is something I wish every library patron could do in every library building, hence the inclusion of a library cafe. Better yet, the profits from the library cafe could be used to fund a number of other library related things (programming! materials!).

13. Printing Center
If libraries wanted to take on Kinko’s, we could. We’ve got pretty much everything they offer in regards to copying and printing, and usually, we’re a whole heck of alot cheaper. Why not take advantage of this? With this idea in mind, I’ve decided to create a Printing Center within the library. This is the place where all printing from the library would be paid for and picked up. There would be a number of copy machines and scanners that patrons could use.

14. Library Store
What’s a library without a library bookstore? Everyone loves browsing through library bookstores, hoping to find something really great and unique that they can take home. This is where the store would be, and it could also be used to sell other library related items. Take Patrick Sweeney’s Library Advocacy Store and apply it to a local level. Sell library swag and have your community be promoting you with t-shirts and more.

15. Programming Space
In order to have technology classes, music events, author talks, movie nights, and more, you’ve gotta have a great space that attracts your community to the library. A hole in the wall won’t do…you’ve gotta step up and have a venue that people enjoying visiting. With this in mind, I’ve set aside some space just for this purpose. Think about this area as being something that’s totally ready to go for any kind of programming. It’s gotta have a great sound system, a nice and welcoming layout, and enough space to accommodate any size audience. With this in your library, you will have no trouble bringing the community in for great programming.

16. Technology Center
And finally, we come to the technology center. Right now, I can imagine this space being set up with a fair number of desktop computers. However, as time moves on we may see a shift away from needing many desktop computers (doesn’t it seem like everyone is starting to get a smartphone or tablet these days?). With that in mind, part of the technology center would be dedicated to other types of technology, namely maker/hacker spaces, gaming areas, digital media labs, and more. Think of the technology center as the place where the community will visit to meet any of their technology needs.

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