Public Space in Academic Libraries

The physical layouts of libraries need to evolve with the needs of library users. I regularly see students move furniture around the library to establish comfortable work environments for themselves or groups. Some hide away in quiet & isolated location within library stacks to focus on their studies. Others take up semi- permanent residence, spreading out their work, food, & belongings at the large tables. Many are within reach of an electrical outlet, their laptop cords sprawling to their furthest possible extent until either their batteries fill or other responsibilities call them away.

Amanda Wakaruk from York University wrote a thought provoking article about physical space within libraries (, and her main points are:

– Libraries should focus on being “public places that are as democratic, responsive, and meaningful as possible.” In other words, offer freedom of actions to library users.
– Library users experience space uniquely through three intersecting elements: representational space (their prior experiences), representations of space (unfolding activities or future experience), and spatial practices (the current physical environment–socially & physically).
– Public spaces should be designed & managed to meet the needs of users & continually assessed.
– Project for Public Spaces is an organization that helps design public spaces–
– There are four keys to a successful space, which can be measured with empirical data: access and linkages, uses and activities, comfort and image, sociability.
– Focus on the cause of library user behaviors, not the symptoms. Libraries compete with other info providers on campus and are loosing the unique features of their public spaces. We should ask why users are drawn to the physical library and other campus locations. What makes the library unique & life changing?


About repplinger

John has served as a Reference Librarian at Willamette University since 2002. He is the liaison to the Science Departments, and is responsible for maintaining the collections related to the life & physical sciences. His research interests range over the entire spectrum of libraries and information sciences, but includes: - Google and its influence on information & society - The Internet's influence on information seeking & sharing behaviors - Trends of scholarly communication - Electronic learning environments - Traditional pedagogy - GIS use in academic libraries

Posted on May 12, 2009, in Libraries, Library Architecture and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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