Friday, December 9, 2011

RA in a Day 2011: Serving Readers with Library Building Projects

Our last session of the day was Serving Readers with Library Building Projects: Toronto Public Library, Mississauga Public Library, Ottawa Public Library

I was presenting, so no notes on these sessions. My session was Serving Readers at Ottawa, and here are some of my speaking notes.

I opened by speaking about GASP - a set of standards for graphics, ambiance, style and presentation developed by American consultant Peter Robinson, and first implemented in West Palm Beach Public Library (see here). I talked about how this unifying set of standards was very challenging in a large library with 33 branches, but necessary: it doesn’t mean OPL locations have to have to be cardboard cut-outs of one another, but they do have to be identifiably part of the same family. GASP standards apply to everything from promotional posters and customer service to renovations and new buildings. We implemented some of OPL's GASP standards in several of our renovations, and these proceses relate to serving readers, as part of an over-arching idea of customer service in the library.

In several renovations, for instance, our use of slatwall, the use of angles as well as lines, and our common chair and carpet designs, unified branches with a similar visual style.

In serving readers with renovations, one important element is to emphasise the library as a place of discovery. This was something we really tried to highlight at Rideau Branch, for instance: says manager Philip Robert, “I hope that people can walk around [...] and discover ideas, authors, books, etc. that they were not thinking of when they arrived at the branch.” We created small display spaces/nooks as best we could, within the constraints of the building. These mini-displays creates sense of discovery for patrons throughout branch and allows you to use small collections in small branches for small displays.

Other renovation ideas that directly serve readers and highlight collections include gondolas and tiered shelving. The latter is both less intimidating, and invites people down the aisle if you use the flat top for display – this was creatively used in a Vanier Branch renovation to pull people into a somewhat arhcitecturally awkward space in children's non-fiction).

In terms of overall architecture, creating an unobstructed view of stacks is helpful for readers, and invites discovery, as does effective use of lighting and floor. Floor colours and materials can be fun to play with - for instance, at Rideau we created the "green carpet" runway that both complements the oak ceiling beams (you can't fight your architectural bones) and leads patrons to the Information desk; we also placed alphabet carpet tiles along a whimsical hopscotch-style pathway in the children's section. Adorable seating in the children's section add to the atmosphere: staff are commenting that young families are staying in the children's section longer and more often after the renos at both Vanier and Rideau. "One of our goals was to make that section into a destination point for young families," observes Philip, and it definitely worked!

If you know Rideau Branch, you know we are lucky to have 30 foot ceilings, which invite the kind of spirit of imagination and inspiration that I am hinting at as an overall theme for serving readers with building projects. These windows both allow us to capitalise on a "cathedral" atmosphere and display selections from the City art collection, further encouraging and supporting creativity in the library.

Moving on to Greely Branch of OPL: Greely's previous library was a 946 square foot space in the fire hall; now they have 3000 square feet. Greely is the fastest growing rural village in the City of Ottawa, and, in fact, one of the fastest growing in Ontario. We received $400, 000 each from ISF, and federal and provincial gov'ts for this new build, with the City contributing the remaining costs. Again, here, you can see how we capitalised on small spaces using some of the same techniques as Rideau and Vanier to create spaces for readers: we used angles rather than straight lines, we made a Teen "nook" behind the circulation desk with a special reading bench, and tucked a display space on the other side of the circ desk. We also used slatwall and adjascent windows to create a small adult reading area: a space of quiet contemplation, cut off from the traffic in the branch.

Words of wisdom from Ottawa Public Library managers and staff:
  • Know your natural environment: the way the sunlight streams into those lovely windows at Rideau affected our plans (after the fact). We realised that we had moved the circ desk into the path of direct sunlight, and had to order custom blinds!
  • Win some, lose some: gradual height increases in shelves opens up the area for display and browsing, but you lose precious shelf space.
  • Re-use and Re-cycle: OPL manager Tony observes, "at both Alta Vista and Ruth E. Dickinson, we were able to re-use and re-cycle many pieces of furniture. The end panels of the shelving at Alta Vista were of excellent quality so we refinished them and we re-purposed shelving from the old City of Ottawa archives. Similarly, at Ruth E. Dickinson we are having chairs with good quality wooden frames re-upholstered in flattering new fabrics."
  • Check the latest accessibility guidelines for design (eg. aisles) . In high use public areas, aisles and passageways, a minimum of 1675 mm wide is recommended to allow two persons using wheelchairs or scooters to pass each other easily. 1200 mm width is required to allow one person using a wheelchair and one ambulatory person to pass. Interior barrier-free routes shall be minimum 1100mm wide with a 1600mm by 1600mm turn-around space a minimum of 30m apart. Know the rules before you make your plans!
My final observations came from:

Lawson, Bryan. "Healing Architecture: For a long time, we have supposed that good design will improve patient well-being. Now we have figures to prove it. Bryan Lawson reports on how patient treatment and behaviour improved with new architecture. (Theory)." The Architectural Review 211.1261 (2002): 72+. Academic OneFile. Web. 4 July 2011.

A study was done in a new wing of a hospital, observing patients’ responses to their surroundings. Patients in the newly designed environments gave significantly better ratings to their treatment and thought more highly of the staff treating them, even though in some cases, it was the same people and the same service. The study concluded that there is a direct relationship between people and their environment, and important factors included:
  • the colours of surfaces
  • the temperature of rooms
  • high and airy spaces
  • an environment that appears loved and cared for
It also cconcluded that it is EVEN MORE IMPORANT how the environment mediates the relationships between people:
  • Matters of privacy or how spaces enable people to establish community or maintain personal place.
So, what does this means for us in a library environment? Although library patrons are not as vulnerable (hot/cold spaces, privacy) as hospital patients, there are some ideas here about serving a variety of people with a variety of spaces and options, being aware of how high and airy spaces are inspiring and formal, whereas lower ceilings are cozy and informal, and about noise versus quiet. Think about how people currently use your space: you can prescribe use by changing elements, and you can capitalise on current spaces/touchpoints by targeting areas for specific reader-oriented activities.

P.S. The computer crashed mid-way through my presentation (it was all a bit "Computer says no") and I had to ad-lib the rest with no pictures - the greatest tragedy was people missed out on the owl (slide 19 above).

Most of the other presentations (very visual!) are online:

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