Beyond the Hub

I spend a great deal of time thinking about libraries.  As a former school administrator who directly supported the work of librarians in a large high school, I learned a great deal from them about the importance of such a space.  As a designer, I look at libraries through a somewhat different lens, but my work to this point with several library projects has only reinforced the value of library spaces and the importance of how the space serves student learning.  And how they need to change.

There is a growing interest in how space impacts learning, with many schools now considering how to create more capable spaces for learning.  Much of this effort is focused on classroom spaces, and rightly so, but libraries should be part of that exploration too.  A part of this process requires understanding the trends that are impacting the identity of “library” and how they might influence the design of such a space.

With that in mind, what are the observable shifts occurring in education and beyond that are influencing how we think about libraries?  Here is my thinking:

A shifting notion of literacy:  Libraries have a time-honored responsibility to support the development of literacy.  With the connectivity, access to digital resources, and the creative potential offered by the Web, how does the library support a new literacy construct?

Personalization:  students should own the experience in the library, how is this shaped and realized both spatially and philosophically?

Technology, including virtual experiences:  a given, but the intersection of digital capacity with physical space creates interesting potential for creative applications of VR, push and location-aware technologies.  What happens when the space itself, typically considered inanimate, is capable of interacting and communication with patrons on its own?

Expectations for always-on, connected experience:  I’ve yet to see a library with a really interesting digital presence that has the same capacity of physical spaces, but only different.  It’s time for more than database access.

Social spaces, coworking, third places:  the emergence of a wide variety of third places (the location between home and work, for kids, home and school) have provided alternative locations for social gathering and informal learning.  Co-working spaces, and other on-demand locations, now provide flexible access to entrepreneurial spaces for a mobile workforce.  How could libraries assume these identities and provide a different type of access?  How could you design a “third place” at school (this would technically violate the definition of a third place) that would have completely different conditions and behaviors than school, but would be at school?

Shift from information to capacity:  it’s no longer about access to information; it’s about access to capacity.  Being able to “check out” the Internet, power tools, kitchen equipment, and even drones, among other things, heralds the library as a location to empower people in a new way.

Making:  Another capacity, libraries now are democratizing access to making capabilities.  It remains to be seen how school libraries will respond to this, as most makerspaces seem to be low-capacity trendy spaces associated with a “schoolized” version of making.  Creating spaces that enable an exploration of passion are much more interesting.

Entrepreneurialism, startups, and incubators.  This is a big deal in my opinion.  How do libraries support a new life trajectory besides work, military or college?  There’s a fourth option now, and that means having spaces that enable students the opportunity to develop the skills associated with being an entrepreneur.  

All of this adds up to a tremendous amount of possibility.  With that in mind, it’s certainly time to move past the notion of a library being a “hub” which now undoubtedly represents simplistic and dated thinking.  Rather, a library, or whatever the name becomes, should assume the characteristics of a living organism, capable of responding, shifting and adapting to new challenges and opportunities, all designed to support the development of learners capable of negotiating life in beta.