This Is Awesome

Library Buildings

This semester I’m taking a class on library buildings. “Library buildings? Is that a class?” you ask? Indeed it is! Taught by Fred Schlipf, an LIS professor, library buildings consultant, and former public library director, the course is an introduction to the physical spaces that LIS institutions occupy. One of the most practical courses I’ve taken in library school, it is less focused on the history or culture of library buildings and more on the actual working parts of library buildings and their renovation/construction.

While slightly geared towards public library structures, the class offers information that would benefit any specialization/path. As Fred said on the first day of class, “you will almost certainly be part of or affected by a library building project at some point in your career.” This has been true for many of the practicing librarians and archivists I know. The further we get into the course, the more surprised I am at its uniqueness: according to Fred, very few other library schools offer a comparable course. I have found it immensely helpful to learn about everything from reading blueprints (not as scary as it seems) to arranging bookstacks (good sightlines mean less theft!) to heading off suggestions of “couldn’t we turn that building into a library?” (most buildings do not have the structural strength to hold books unless they are specifically designed to do so).

The Geisel Library at UC San Diego certainly *looks* cool... But future expansion is going to be tricky... (Image Source)

The Geisel Library at UC San Diego certainly *looks* cool… But future expansion is going to be tricky… (CC 2.0 liscensed image from Flickr user ewen and donabel)

While very few people *plan* on being part of a library building project, it seems almost inevitable, and the knowledge required is very niche. Being comfortable with renovation/construction topics and vocabulary can be a major asset, especially in a smaller/more remote environment (apparently one of Fred’s former students was able to shine in an interview by pointing to redesign blueprints taped to the director’s office walls and commenting on them with some fluency). Thus, in light of the revelation that Library Buildings classes do not exist at most schools, I’ve pulled together a few resources to share with the Hack Library School community. I know that “free time” is rather scarce as a grad student, but if you have some and feel so inclined, take a look at some of these; the resulting know-how will probably be useful sooner than you think!

State of America’s Libraries Reports – 2013 reportArchived reports
Published annually, this report contains a section on library construction and renovation, which can be a great way to dip your toes into the recent challenges and issues.

American Libraries Design/Buildings supplements – 2012 supplement 
Every so often publications like American Libraries will put out special issues on library facilities, construction, renovation, and/or design. These are also fun, low-stress ways to acquaint yourself with new developments.

Webinars – e.g. “Constructing the Future Library: Architectural & Digital Considerations” (free recording of a 2011 ALCTS webinar)
Webinars are your best friend when it comes to topics your school doesn’t have classes on. Do some searching and you’ll often find recordings of past presentations for free!

Books on library construction! 
When you’re ready to bite off a bit more, there are a number of fabulous, recent books on library construction and renovation projects. The two we’re using extensively in my class are: Managing Your Library Construction Project: A Step-by-Step Guide (2007) and Checklist of Library Building Design Considerations (2008). I’ve also come across many others that look equally informative.

Got any other great library building resources? Or have you been part of a building project at some point in your career? Share your advice and thoughts in the comments!

8 thoughts on “Library Buildings

  1. I worked in a library that was repurposed from a grocery store. How did they decide that this structure was solid enough but not others?

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    • My professor has said that about the only buildings that can be converted are grocery/big-box stories because they’re built to handle the distributed weight of lots of goods (which is similar to book weight) and are usually built on concrete slabs (that can hold up to the book weight). Another similar example that was in the news about a year ago: the Walmart in Texas that got turned into a library: http://nyti.ms/1fB0OkH

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  2. As a history-of-art-and-architecture type, this is so interesting! And, strangely, not something I’d have thought to research on my own. Thanks for these great resources, Nicole!

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