Hack Your Image of Libraries as Place

Hunt Library, NC State

Rain Garden Reading Room, Hunt Library

Last semester, members of my ALA Student Chapter joined a public tour of the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s an extraordinary facility with a growing list of accolades, including the 2014 Stanford Prize for Innovation in Research Libraries. I was dazzled by the library’s architecture, technology, user space, and bookBot robotic book delivery system, the behind-the-scenes storage that houses most of Hunt Library’s print collection. Toward the end of the tour, I was surprised when someone in the tour group leaned over and whispered to me, “Where’s the library?” This question led to an interesting and dynamic post-tour discussion among our small group of library students and faculty about what makes a library a library.

This lively discussion made me thing about libraries as place from a couple of different angles. On one hand,  what does the community of users need? Usually, basic user needs include resources (including print and electronic), user space for studying, and access to technology, right?

In addition to the library being a place for users to have access to resources, the discussion also made me think about libraries as a place to work. What type of library do you imagine yourself working in? What physical traits are you looking for in a library workplace? Do you imagine the library like the one you frequented growing up, or have studied in during undergrad and library school, one with browseable shelves of print books and journals? Or do you imagine working yourself in a “library of the future,” like Hunt Library or BiblioTech, the public digital library in San Antonio, Texas. Technology is shaping the future of libraries, there’s no doubt, but there are many reasons why print books are here to stay for a long time.

Whether we end up working at a small public library in a rural community, a large academic library at a major research institution, or somewhere in between after library school, our work as librarians will be shaped, in part, by the size of the library and the resources it contains. Nicole Helregel’s enlightening post on taking a class in library buildings reminds us that most librarians will face a library construction or renovation project sometime in our careers. At Duke University Libraries, for instance, a new Research Commons is in the works.

So, how do we, as library students, prepare for the library building(s) we’re going to work in? For starters, getting work experience in a library while in library school is so valuable, not just for the hands-on experiences with resources and patrons, but also in working within a library space. In each library where I’ve worked, I’ve taken away ideas about what worked well and what didn’t, both in practical and in aesthetic ways. One of my most interesting library-as-place experiences happened during a renovation that ended in Technical Services being moved off-site. It was challenging at first to get used to the idea of working for a library, but not in said library. One thing that helped me with the transition was being appointed to a “worklife” committee ahead of the move. Our charge? To explore the various campus buildings, businesses, bus schedules, and other neat things around our new building location, a renovated tobacco warehouse on the National Register of Historic Places, and share the results with the rest of our library colleagues. It was a fun committee assignment, for sure, and I’ve fallen in love with the building and surrounding area!

Another way to prepare for  the various libraries we’ll work in during our careers is to take advantage of opportunities to tour different libraries in your area or when you travel to a new place. Raise your hand if you’ve passed a library while on vacation and wished you had time to stop! Now you have a good excuse to make time. (It’s a free tour, after all!) If you’re planning to attend ALA Annual 2014 next month, one of the preconference ticketed events is a tour of Las Vegas libraries, sponsored by the LLAMA Buildings and Equipment Section, and it’s only $40 for students. Exploring different libraries expands our view of the possibilities.

While you may not get to be picky about the type of building you work in (especially when you’re thrilled to get that first professional position, right?!), you never know when you’ll have the opportunity to share in and influence your library’s brick-and-mortar growth or renovation. Think about how you can be a leader in the future of your library as a place!

Have you had any interesting library building experiences during library school? Any libraries that impressed or surprised you in some way? Share with us in the comments section below!


Meanwhile, enjoy the links below, which show off libraries big and small!

NPR Interview with Robert Dawson, author of The Public Library: A Photographic Essay

CNNTravel: Libraries are dying? Think again! (Be sure to click through the photo feed of libraries at the top of the article!)

The 16 Coolest College Libraries in the Country (according to Business Insider)

Pinterest search of “library building











5 replies

  1. Visiting libraries on vacation is a brilliant way to get a sense of what is happening globally. I visited several on a tour to New Zealand last year and was really thrilled by all the different interiors, offerings and layouts.


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