Library visits in Missouri and Colorado

It is a lovely, cold, wintry day here in the Chicago area, and I’ve just finished cleaning off the front deck and the driveway. A few days ago, we had about an inch of snowfall and there is still some of that on the ground along with a lot of recently fallen leaves. The combination of snow and leaves makes surfaces pretty slippery.

Thursday and Friday of this past week were spent in travel to visit three libraries in two states as part of our campus library building project. Six of us travelled to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Denver, and Colorado College to view recent library renovations and expansions. I have put together an album of some of the photos from that trip.

Travel is stressful and tiring at the best of times, and then there is the added complication of traveling in a group. But it all went pretty well. We had a good time together and these visits, only some of several planned trips in the next few weeks, helped us to coalesce around key points of what we’d like to propose for our library at Wheaton College.

Here are some of my takeaways:

  • No library building project is perfect. There are always trade offs and aspects to functional and/or aesthetic design that only become obvious after the dust has settled and a facility is in use for a while.
  • We already knew that our community really wants more natural light in our library spaces, and these visits just confirmed how important a role ample light plays. One of my colleagues jokingly came up with the following tag line for our project: Fiat lux, Fiat books, Fiat nooks. I got a good laugh out of that.
  • We should be very careful and thoughtful about implementing technology. An example of this is that all of the libraries we visited had a plethora of flatscreen monitors and none of them felt that they actually needed or benefited from having so many. Also, advanced technology solutions may seem cool in concept or on paper, but in reality, they are frequently buggy, difficult to maintain, and too expensive.
  • A mix of construction materials is pleasing and attractive to me, personally. Wood accents along with other building materials that are more modern and sleek seem to work well, aesthetically. I also saw the value and attractiveness of whimsy in building design.
  • All of the libraries we visited featured mixed use spaces. By that I mean, for example, they incorporated a café/coffee shop, as well as a writing center, campus information technology space, and other functions such as a center for teaching and learning. It is likely that our plan will include a mix of functions as well.
  • Each of the libraries we visited chose to de-emphasize user proximity to physical books and other traditional library materials to greater or lesser degree in favor of more spaces for work and study spaces for the community. I’m not sure what to think of that.
  • A corollary to the previous point is that all of these libraries appear to be choosing to emphasize ebooks in their ongoing collection development and de-emphasizing a robust tradition of print book collecting. Again, I feel ambivalent about that.
  • These three libraries took varying approaches to the role of librarians in public areas. As one of our group mentioned, figuring out where to place librarians in a library redesign is a crucial aspect to space design, and I agree. It is also a crucial aspect of how we want to develop library service overall, and one of the things we need to think through is a possible concierge style for our public services areas.
Two remaining, random thoughts: thank goodness for TSA PreCheck; and, I really loved seeing the mountains of Colorado. Next week we will visit three libraries in the Pacific Northwest.

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