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The community library serves all members of its geographic area regardless of race, gender and socioeconomic considerations. How can libraries communicate that all are welcome in a meaningful, sincere way? There are many opportunities to engage, including marketing campaigns and outreach. However, libraries considering a renovation or new building have a unique opportunity to make design decisions with enhanced outreach and access in mind in every aspect of the project inside and out.
Community libraries often occupy land that inherently affords them access to their surrounding community. Improving or enhancing these connections can help attract more visitors and help the library become a more meaningful resource. There are always connections that can be made, for example, does your library border a mixed-use district, a residential neighborhood, a community park or a school? How can library space, externally and internally, relate to the identified connections? An outdoor library café might engage visitors from a mixed-use district or a children’s area might have exterior windows that entice families from a nearby school. At the Columbus Metropolitan Library Main Branch, GUND worked with the City’s Recreation and Parks Department to transform a parking lot into a landscaped entrance and lively outdoor program space that seamlessly connects the library to the adjacent Topiary Park.
Architectural building inscriptions are a classic approach to welcome all equally. According to Courtney Wimberley who studied Architectural Inscriptions and the University Library Building, this approach was used on a number of public and university libraries that were built in the 1890s to 1930s. The original Boston Public Library, built in 1895, includes the inscriptions "THE PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE CITY OF BOSTON • BUILT BY THE PEOPLE AND DEDICATED TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING • A.D. MDCCCLXXXVIII" and "FREE TO ALL". There are contemporary ways to incorporate traditional architectural inscription such as exterior signage, etched glass inscriptions and lettering on interior or exterior walls.
Building designs that use transparency can further help to draw people inside the library by showcasing the activities within. Seeing well-lit and activated spaces inside will invite those outside to come explore. The arrival patterns from each locale are important to consider so that each approach can begin to engage library customers from their first glimpse of the building. Once a visitor enters the building, traffic patterns can be choreographed to draw visitors throughout the space. The flow through the building and the feel of the spaces should be intentional. Spaces should be designed to make customers feel welcome and so that they serendipitously engage with library programming and amenities. Furnishings can set the experience in motion supporting library activities and encouraging a variety of behaviors. By choreographing a customer journey through your space you can help visitors extend their stay and foster a greater sense of community.
1. Libraries today are about connecting people to resources and to each other. An assortment of collaboration spaces that include flexible furnishings and easy to use technology support a rich variety of formal and impromptu gatherings.
2. Research shows that connecting with nature has huge health benefits. Try maximizing daylight or opening up views and access to outdoor parks or green spaces. Creating outdoor library programming is another great way to supplement traditional indoor programming.
3. Life-long learning enhances social inclusion and personal development. Libraries are seizing the tremendous opportunity to be impactful in providing programming for all generations including literacy interventions for young children, homework support and skill-based programs for teens and young adults and rich programming and social opportunities for older adults.