February 16, 2018

Changing Spaces: Exploring Future User Needs, Sustainability, and Value | Library by Design

LJ’s ninth Design Institute in Minneapolis took a look at the evolving role of library as a community center.

ljx110902LBDwebDILogo(Original Import)Library Journal ’s ninth Design Institute, held May 10, 2011, at the Hennepin County Library in Minneapolis (and preceded by a tour of libraries on May 9), revolved around the idea that libraries’ role as a community center is in the ascendancy but how they are used is ­changing.

“What we are seeing is a transformation that does affect space in a tremendous way,” said Sara Weiner, an associate principal at Cuningham Group Architecture in Minneapolis, at one of the panel sessions during the day-long seminar. “It’s a total transformation of physical and virtual boundaries,” said MS&R cofounder Jeffrey Scherer, pointing out that the two must mirror each other in ­design.

“We’re moving books out and moving comfortable new furnishings in. We’re moving books out and replacing them with coffee shops,” said Dan Gjelten, the director of the University of St. Thomas Libraries in Saint Paul. “Clearly, users are looking for a different kind of environment to work in, and we are trying to accommodate that with technology and furnishings.” Gjelten also described libraries as being part of a larger educational ecosystem:  “[We] hand people off from one library to another throughout their life.”

The architects and librarians agreed that libraries must continue to play a role as social institutions, reflecting sustainability in their buildings and modeling it for their communities, as well as providing services for those economically, technologically, or otherwise disenfranchised.

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HAT’S OFF TO MINNESOTA Mary Tyler Moore’s immortal statue salutes Minneapolis (1), where the Central Library (2) hosted the day’s events. Attendees made the most of topical panels (3) while also gathering info from the many sponsors (4). Networking with attendees and showcasing new products were (5) Lucas Fanning and Thom Madden from Brodart Contract Furniture, (6) DEMCO Library Interior’s Marisa Amara, and (7) book2net’s Dennis Moore (1.). (8) Hennepin County Library director Lois Langer Thompson welcomed the crowd. (10) Kit Hadley from St. Paul PL moderated the first panel on library visions for the 21st Century (10), featuring (l.-r) Cuningham Group Architecture’s Sara Weiner, University of St. Thomas Libraries director Dan Gjelten, Dennis Humphries from Humphries Poli, and MS&R’s Jeffrey Scherer. (11) Participants played around with space for the University of North Dakota’s Chester Fritz Library during their challenge session. (12) Another panel addressed the new reality for construction/renovation, moderated by Hennepin County Library senior librarian Lois Lenroot-Ernt. (13) Chiming in on cost savings were Jane Dedering from HGA Architects & Engineers (l.) and Susan Nemitz from Ramsey County Library. (14) Engberg Anderson’s Bill Williams (l.) and Joseph Huberty offered potential solutions to California’s Chula Vista PL remodel. (15) Envisioning a new Ed campus for the Carver County Library, MN, Doug Pfeiffer (l.) and Michael Mackey from PSA-Dewberry proposed ideas. Photos 1, 5, 6, 7, 15, and 16 by Kevin Henegan. All other photos by Jayme Halbritter/Getty Images

The Design Institute architect/librarian panels were accompanied by a dozen minicharrettes—breakout sessions where librarians and architects brainstormed design “challenges” (see p. 14)—a vendor panel and showcase, a closing cocktail reception, and a preconference meet and greet at the offices of HGA Architects. The event ­coincided with the launch of LJ’s New Landmark Libraries (see LJ 5/15/11), which reflect many of the trends highlighted here.

Know the community

In order to provide needed services and also navigate political shoals, panelists emphasized, librarians need to know their communities well. “Librarians who really have ways to gather intelligence about their communities are the ones who are succeeding,” Scherer said. “The space is getting more anonymous to allow for anything to happen, but the services are getting much more tailored.”

That tailoring is key to political success, said Joseph Huberty, a partner at Engberg Anderson. “I think that local emphasis, tailoring the project to meet the community’s needs, is essential. No one will vote for a project unless they perceive an underlying need,” he said.

Architects and others can help articulate that need. “I would guess that 90 percent of the libraries we are working with, it’s their first building project, so part of the vision process is creating a leadership team that can carry the project through,” said Doug Pfeiffer, an associate principal with PSA-Dewberry.

However, adjusting services can be difficult when there is tension between the traditional library and the Internet, and any design has to acknowledge this.

“We’re in this transitional period…the traditional library is stable, solid, immutable…it’s sort of churchy in a way,” Gjelten said. “The Internet is customizable, loud, profane—in the classic and in every sense of the term—it’s completely mutable. And the truth is we like both of these things, and we weave around between those two worlds…. [T]hat’s the way our users are at this moment…maybe we will move clear over to this web digital environment, but right now we have people who love both of those worlds, and I think designs have to accommodate that.”

It is important for designs also to be presented in a way that politicians can grasp, since they may not fully appreciate all the dynamics at work.

“I think one of the difficulties we face is that we are wildly successful, so people love what we do [and] can’t imagine why we’d change it,” said Susan Nemitz, director of the Ramsey County Library, MN. “You’ve got to overcome this concept. What worked well with our political entities was to benchmark locally, [for instance] show[ing] what southern Wisconsin libraries were doing that was very effective. We also brought them to libraries that we wanted to be like. They really needed a visual.”

Breaching the public-academic divide

The changing nature of library design cuts across academic and public libraries. “The University of Denver is putting 80 percent of its collection in storage and opening up the building to these collaborative learning areas and a lot of the functions that the public libraries are providing,” said Dennis Humphries, a founding principal of Humphries Poli Architects. “I think the functional qualities that result in the creation of space [between public and academic libraries] are becoming much, much more similar. It’s all about creating a space where people can come together, interact, and learn together.”

Humphries noted that the service desk is disappearing, too, as staff become more customer-oriented, and he said rethinking traditions can help architects and librarians respond to new challenges. “We just completed our sixth library that’s not organized by the Dewey Decimal System, and it’s amazing what that does in terms of opening up the collection and distributing the shelving and the materials in any fashion that we care to present it,” he said.

Containing costs

Increasingly, design has to take into account reduced costs both for building and operations. Panelists explored the pros and cons of building in phases, value engineering—looking at everything that will be in the building and asking if there is an alternative that meets the requirements more cheaply—and building less square footage.

“What we’re finding is that efficient means staff costs can be controlled,” said Jane Dedering, an associate VP at HGA Architects & Engineers. “[Y]ou can build less if you really look at your processes.  You can build less square footage, which means less staff and less operating costs. You’re building less on day one and you’re operating and maintaining less throughout the course of the building’s life.”

Nemitz gave a concrete example of this type of thinking. “We closed an 8000 square foot building and remodeled 2300 square feet in a local community center that had space available,” she said. “We went from six staff to two FTEs, and our circ is up. That’s a hard thing to hear. [L]ocal communities offered us that space for free. We have to think creatively.”

The central library in Amsterdam is an inspiring model, Scherer said, noting that it has a radio station, collaborative workrooms, three restaurants, a bar, an organic market, and many other amenities. “This is the life of the mind in this community. This is a place that has a really interesting connection between place and the inquisitiveness of the mind,” he said.

The Sponsors

Special thanks to our sponsors for their generous support of and participation in LJ‘s Design Institute


Cuningham Group Architecture
Sara Rothholz Weiner, Associate Principal

Engberg Anderson
Deborah Fortune, Director of Business Development

HGA Architects & Engineers
Jane Dedering, Associate Vice President
414-278-3423; www.hga.com

Humphries Poli Architects
Dennis Humphries, Principal
303-607-0040; www.hparch.com

Jack Poling, President and Senior Principal
612-375-0336; www.msrltd.com

Denelle C. Wrightson, Director, Library Architecture


Rick Mason, Sr. Account Representative
651-733-8141; www.3M.com

AGATI Furniture
Tina Campbell, Marketing Manager

Dennis Moore, Director

Brodart Contract Furniture
Chris Frantz, Director, Marketing and Sales

DEMCO Library Interiors
Janet Nelson, Director, Business Development

Tech Logic
Gary W. Kirk, Executive Director

TMC Furniture
Blake Ratcliffe


Hennepin County Library
Sarah Rosenblum, Library Strategies Division Manager

This article originally appeared in print in the Library by Design supplement published by LJ on Sep. 15, 2011. Read on for more Library by Design articles and ongoing architecture coverage from LJ.

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley (mkelley@mediasourceinc.com) is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.