In 2014, amendments to the Public Libraries Act of Norway came into force. The revision included an enhanced role for public libraries:
…to promote the spread of information, education and other cultural activities through active dissemination and by making books and other media available for the free use of all the inhabitants of Norway. Public libraries are to be an independent meeting place and arena for public discussions and debates.
Of particular significance is the emphasis on the “active” role of public libraries and the use of the public library as a “meeting place”. What does the new approach mean for libraries? How should public libraries respond to new directions? How are any changes planned and implemented? What consequences are there for the design of “library rooms”? How is the rethinking of the design of physical library space undertaken? This blog posting outlines two projects in Troms in Norway, which have proactively changed the role of the library, the first through examining use of library space and the second through presenting libraries as houses of literature.
The renowned Staats- und Stadtbibliothek Augsburg (State and City Library of Augsburg) is housed in a veritable nineteenth-century Palace of Books created in 1892– 1893 by the architects Fritz Steinhäußer and Martin Dülfer. Like many nineteenth century libraries, its viability in the twenty-first century was in doubt as costs of maintenance and renewal escalated and the role of the library was questioned. Successful initiatives have ensured improved prospects and a worthwhile future. Planning is underway for the renovation and extension of the building to ensure the preservation and appropriate presentation of Augsburg’s valuable collections and cultural heritage, and quality service delivery for an important region of Germany.
James Campbell and Will Pryce in their world history of libraries comment that it is hard to reconcile talk of a crisis in library design due to spending cuts and the decline in importance of printed material with “the continued explosion in library construction in the first decade of this century and the large number of library buildings currently being built. For a construction sector in crisis it seems to be a remarkably healthy one”. The Designing Libraries website records over 60 UK library projects completed in the five years from 2011 – 2015, the majority of which are refurbishments or extensions. Some were very significant enhancements of older buildings including historic buildings of major architectural importance. Trends include an increasing focus on user requirements, community awareness, energy efficiency and sustainability. While it became more difficult to secure funding for library buildings, librarians who were fleet of foot, had adjusted to meet new demands and remained at the heart of their respective communities, were able to make the case to funding authorities to provide attractive, well-designed physical spaces to deliver increasingly varied and electronic services. It is not possible in a blog to do justice to the various developments and more detail can be obtained from a chapter in British Librarianship and Information Work 2011-2015 on which this blog is based.
Modern libraries are asked to be many things to many people many times each day. While space needs for collections have remained static or decreased, the need for areas of varying sizes for events, programs, meetings, collaboration and creating content has exploded.
Spaces of different sizes are required to accommodate:
Large community meetings and events programmed for up to 300 people and held a few times each year
Weekly programs for 30 – 50 children or adults and special events for 100 or more
Alternative uses of spaces intended for events and programs when none is being held
Diverse user behaviour and the need for collaborative and quiet spaces
Speedy transformations to suit a variety of purposes
Flexible Spaces can be Greener and Less Expensive
In addition to providing for a variety of uses, flexible spaces have other advantages. They support aims of greater sustainability and are usually less costly and faster to build and maintain than spaces with solid walls. For example, a design for a meeting space that includes three separate rooms for meetings of 50, 100, or up to 300 participants would require approximately 5,000 square feet (465 square metres). A project like this would typically cost about US$250 per square foot (approx.US$2325 per square metre), or US $1,250,000 for the total project.
In contrast, one large divisible room for 300 would take 3,200 square feet (297.3 square metres) of space. Assuming the use of the highest performance and cost of movable walls to allow the room to be easily divided three ways into alternative configurations, the cost would be US$1,000,000. Reducing the size has a very positive impact by lowering the footprint required for the building and its overall cost. At the same time, the environmental impact would be less with a more efficient use of the site, lower demand for building materials and reduced energy consumption. Movable walls can be introduced into existing or new spaces.