Library Spaces

“A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library.” Shelby Foote, historian and author of The Civil War: A Narrative.

Photo of the New York Public Library Reading Room
Photo credit: Ed Yourdon via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

I have been thinking recently about library spaces. Of course, libraries are much more than spaces, and I usually think much more about library services, but now I’m focused on the library as a space. And more specifically, I’m focused on questions surrounding how library space can foster learning, which I define broadly to include many different types of activities that take place in the law school to prepare students to practice law.

Photo of the main reading room at the libbrary of congressLibraries are not just central to a college campus, they are central to society. Some of the most beautiful spaces in the world are libraries, and there are many beautiful libraries, both ancient and modern. Some are architectural masterpieces, some have amazing interiors, some house precious art works and sculptures. They contain rows and rows of books, the writings of civilizations. The libraries themselves are works of civilizations.

Except for the rows of books, our library has little of this. Yet still, it is a pleasant space. There are times were almost every seat is taken. We have students who spend hours each day in there. Alumni come back and are proud when they still know where things are. It’s a functional space where people like to be.

I’m not unhappy with the space, but I have been playing with ideas about space and learning, and, putting those together, how to deliberately plan space to foster learning in all its manifestations. The traditional role of academic libraries was to support learning by containing knowledge and providing a quiet place to read. Libraries are changing. The books are still important, but so are alternative forms of access—especially electronic formats—and services.

Photo of the interior of the Beinecke Library at Yale University
Photo credit: Lauren Manning via / CC BY

Some of my questions are: how can we best configure our space to highlight our collections? How can we design our space so everybody, even those who are now not library users, want to come in? What kind of spaces and furniture provide people with places to study quietly, to collaborate, to discuss ideas? How do we turn one space into multiple spaces and still be one library? What is inspirational space?

But it’s not all about space. One of my questions is what new services could we offer is we had different space? How can we use our space to enhance the visibility of librarians?

I put all these questions out there not just so you know what is occupying my mind, but because I am very interested in your thoughts. If you are already a library user, how could the library space serve you even better? If you aren’t a library user, what would draw you into the library? Email your thoughts about library spaces



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