March 22, 2018

Libraries, User Needs, and Aesthetics | Not Dead Yet

Despite the increase in remote services libraries offer, I think “the library as place” is gaining in importance in the real world of library life. It may be that I think that because I am lucky enough to work in a magnificent library that recently underwent a top-notch renovation, making it an even more beautiful, comfortable, and useful place to do research. But I don’t think that’s the only reason, because much of what I’m reading in the library literature describes how libraries now being built or renovated are changing their spaces to suit actual user needs, as well as the needs of the library to do its work. And, in my opinion, that’s a good thing.

As a true believer in participatory design (a philosophy learned at the feet of the master of library participatory design, Nancy Fried Foster), the idea of gathering input from users to inform the plans of the library and its architect for a redesign or new building strikes me as just the smart thing to do. At a number of the CLIR workshops on participatory design, we were treated to marvelous insights from library architects on how they incorporated user needs and wishes into their design process and how it improved the projects.

That got me to musing about what’s important for library administrators and architects to consider before they create a new design for a library and what aspects a good library would incorporate in a perfect world. That was just a small step from making…

Ten Wishes for How Libraries Get Built

In my perfect world, we would:

  1. Build libraries that draw people into them
  2. Build libraries that people can use and use easily
  3. Build libraries that bring people together, even if they want to make individual uses of services and spaces
  4. Build libraries that can be modified—at least in part—as needed over time
  5. Build libraries that help users achieve a sense of belonging, intellectual activity, productivity, serenity, curiosity, and community
  6. Build libraries that are environmentally friendly and lower cost to maintain
  7. Build libraries that reflect the real and/or aspired spirits of their communities
  8. Build libraries that emphasize people and the lives they live, over “things”
  9. Build libraries that balance the aesthetic with the practical
  10. Build libraries with infinitely expandable capabilities for electrical outlets (there can never be too many)

This seems like a modest enough list to me, but I wonder if you have suggestions that I missed? Let me know, if you would. And may your library inspire you to great things!

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Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.