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Planning the library space

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By Margaret Adolphus

The author wishes to express gratitude to Alan Clark of Designing Libraries for his help with this article.


It was recently reported that the University of Strathclyde was not going to follow its competitors and build a new, flagship library building, but would invest in electronic infrastructure and reduce its physical space. Its slogan would be: "Don't just go to the library, take it with you".

Is this part of a trend to plan the library in virtual rather than real space?

On the contrary, Alan Clark, who runs the Designing Libraries gateway (see resources in section 4), believes that there is a resurgence of interest in library design, and that both Strathclyde and other institutions which have chosen to erect large new libraries are responding to the need to shape new kinds of library space tailored to current and perceived future needs.

In describing a massive library building programme in former East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Blume and Kempf point out that buildings are needed to house the virtual library's infrastructure, as well as the continued growth in print resources (2003).

And, while the Internet may have posed an initial threat to librarians in the 1990s, there's a growing realization that the sheer quantity of information in cyberspace calls for professional guidance (Houlihan, 2003).

Furthermore, students tend to come to the library not just to study, but also to use it as a social space – somewhere in which to relax and recover from the tensions of juggling work and study (Waxman et al., 2007).

So, the library as place is still important – but in a different way to how it was a couple of decades ago. Very often libraries are multi-purpose – public libraries are also community centres, and academic libraries are social centres and even entertainment venues, with the occasional film show.

Morell Boone of Eastern Michigan University wrote a seminal article (Boone, 2003) in which he talked about the library's paradigm shift from being "no longer simply a monastery full of books and journals for scholars but marketplaces competing for clients by offering different arrays of services". Librarians are no longer just information specialists; they are also service providers.