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Building the Library of the Future: Trends in Architectural Design

As libraries reinvent themselves in the face our changing digital landscape, it is only logical that new and renovated library spaces not only reflect these changes but also seek to take an active and innovative role in reimagining the library as space. Looking at some of the library building and renovation projects that have been completed over the past few years reveals a number of trends in design, functionality and services that help to position these libraries for the future.

Flexibility of Function and Space
One of the biggest of these trends is flexibility. Many of these libraries envision themselves as a central space of learning, exploration and socialization in its community. As such, they designed spaces that can be used for everything from group study and class meetings to guest lectures and social events. At the heart of the Goucher Athenaeum, for example, is the Forum, a large, open amphitheater space used for a variety of events, including concerts, speakers and broadcasting world events. The Polk Wisdom branch of the Dallas Public Library and Ohio State’s William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library feature movable seating and workstations that allow patrons and staff to easily create the space they need. A key part of this flexibility is that it allows libraries to plan for the future. Features like raised flooring that houses data, electrical and HVAC components enable reconfiguration to fit future needs.

New and Innovative Partnerships
In an effort to maximize resources, libraries are forming innovative partnerships to provide patrons with more diverse services. The South Mountain Community Library, a joint venture between Maricopa County Community College District and Phoenix Public Library, is both a public and an academic library. Perched on the edge of the South Mountain Community College, the library’s service desk is bidirectional, with half facing the campus entrance and half facing the public entrance. The first floor, featuring a cybercafé, teen room and children’s area, has a public feel. The upper floor, complete with group classrooms, study areas, presentation practice rooms, has a more academic focus. This blurring of the lines between academic and public allows the library to provide a deeper, more well-rounded experience for its patrons.

Connection with the Environment
One of the most prevalent trends is bringing the outside into the library, often in the form of natural light. One of the most striking examples of this trend is Berkeley Law Library’s new 55,000 square foot addition, which was built in a small courtyard between existing buildings. Faced with this size constraint, the architects decided to build down instead of up, adding two subterranean levels under a glass-walled atrium built at ground level. A glass walkway connecting the addition to the rest of the law school, a large glass and granite staircase and liberal use of glass pavers in the courtyard and skylights tucked into planters are strategically placed to bring a surprising amount of light into the underground levels. Another example is the South Mountain Community Library/, which uses rooftop monitors and light shafts to channel natural light into the library’s first floor.

Another aspect of this trend is the creation of outdoor spaces for library activities. Above the Berkeley Law Library’s atrium is a roof garden which offers space for café seating, study, class meetings and special events. The expansion of Seattle University’s Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons created a variety of outdoor spaces, including a plaza, terraced amphitheater, meditation lawn, rain garden, and bioswale.

Going Green
One of the most common elements among recent building projects is a concerted effort to create sustainable spaces. The latest technologies, materials and systems were employed to ensure that these buildings have a minimal footprint. The design of the Goucher Athenaeum, for example, includes solar-heated water, a radiant-heat HVAC system, energy-recovery wheels, and displacement ventilation to maximize system efficiency. Sensors are used throughout the building to control both light and heat. Reusing and repurposing existing space and furnishings is another common sustainability strategy. This trend can been seen in the Thompson Library at Ohio State, where a 1951 addition, a tower which originally held closed stacks, was converted into a glass-walled open stack area with a spacious and airy reading room at the top. The Berkeley library restored 100-year old study carols from its original building for use in the new addition.

While these libraries serve diverse missions and communities, they brought to their building and renovation projects a similar focus on innovation, sustainability, flexibility and a focus on the patrons’ full range of needs that will define the library of the future.

If you are interested in researching library design, contact Deborah Bernnard, our Information Studies subject specialist. She can point you to a number of books, articles, and other materials available at the Dewey Library on this topic. Call Deborah at 442-3699 or email her at

Blog post created by Cary Gouldin

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