Today’s academic library is undergoing a transformation in how it responds to the multifaceted needs and expectations of various user groups. With the waning reliance on physical resources and the parallel advances in technological innovation, the library of tomorrow must devote a far greater share of its space to users seeking comfortable, flexible environments that can host a range of scholarly activities.
As mobile computing and communication become more ubiquitous, campuses around the country are finding that hybrid learning commons capable of hosting a range of complementary services are becoming in-demand hubs of everyday activity. By providing students places to eat, relax, study, and collaborate, the campus library is poised to become the premier showcase for an institution’s commitment to 21st century learning.
Catering to Every Type of Learner
While much has changed in the evolution of library design, the library itself remains the foremost venue for scholarship on American campuses today. It serves as a foundation for research, study, and intellectual enlargement at a time when there is a decreasing reliance on traditional, bricks-and-mortar academic resources. Today’s library is a nimble building, replete with spaces that cater to every type of learner. Small, quiet study stations allow students to focus intently on their studies, while Learning Commons buzz with the collaborative exchanges of small and medium sized groups. Study Rooms host teams of high-level thinkers, and traditional Reading Rooms recall the grandeur of lofty public libraries. Flexible furniture arrangements and comfortable seating options combine to create diverse settings for various forms of study and camaraderie.
Leveraging Technological Innovations
The 21st century has given rise to tremendous shifts in how information is created, disseminated, and digested. The Internet, wireless computing, and touch-screen technology have all contributed to a growing expectation for information to be provided on-demand and in increasingly flexible formats. The library serves as an intellectual go-between, helping users wade through the incredible amount of information that exists while fostering new methods of search and discovery.
At the same time, curricular changes demanding increased group study require new tools to facilitate digital collaboration. Touch-tables, interactive media surfaces, 3D printing, and the integration of technology into furnishings are being incorporated into academic libraries at a rapid rate. In order to stay ahead of the curve, the library must adapt to changes in existing infrastructure and equipment while embracing new systems and technology as they become available.
Housing + Accessing Information
While some universities are scaling back collections and de-accessioning little-used volumes from their collections, others are experimenting with a collection management system known as the Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS). These robotically controlled book vaults require a fraction of the space needed for traditional book storage by housing collections in high-density storage bins. When a book is requested, a computer determines its location and deploys a robot to retrieve it within seconds.
The ASRS allows libraries to convert valuable square footage (necessary for bulky stacks) into flexible, user-centered program areas. With this space-saving technology, libraries are providing more collaborative learning environments, allowing patrons and library staff to focus more on the experience of knowledge learning and sharing, as opposed to book searching and shelving.
To learn more about design considerations for academic libraries, read our Academic Library Design Resource Book.