4 Tips for Designing a Student-Centered Library
- July 12, 2023
- Sean Downey
In modern library spaces, the design is no longer centered around books and other reading materials. While these media still require a home in the library, a modern media center holds more functions, acting as a hub for students to engage in a variety of social and academic activities. Because modern libraries are student spaces now more than ever, it’s key to take a student-centered approach to designing these environments.
Creating a student-centered library requires designers to consider the function, comfort, and engagement that the space will provide. Partnering with students, teachers, and librarians can help ensure you are able to design a space that will serve the needs of all stakeholders for many years to come.
In order to create a student-centered library space, it’s critical to identify student needs from the start. Determine all of the different ways students might use the space: to gather, to find and use media, to use technology, or even as a restorative and quiet space. Your library design should include features that support all of these functions. For example, lounge furniture in your library space can help make it more inviting and comfortable for students who need a place on campus to retreat to. Modular lounge furniture is also useful in creating intimate and engaging spaces for club meetings, discussions, or group work.
While it’s important to design for what students will do in a library space, it’s also necessary to design around the resources that the space will house. The library is a hub for student resources, so it’s key to consider what resources students will seek when they come to the space. Traditionally, libraries have been a home for books and paper materials, but a modern library also includes access to technology, learning spaces, and support from librarians. The technology that students use in a library space can vary widely, including presentation screens, personal devices, 3D printers, digital cameras, VR devices, and more. Student-centered library design should consider all of these resources and include storage and workspaces that make resources accessible.
Students, teachers, and librarians all have different needs and preferences for a library space. Ultimately, all stakeholders have the same goal: create a student-centered space that will support a variety of student needs and educational purposes. While it’s possible to design a library space that is flexible and offers many different functions, that might not be the best option to meet all stakeholders’ needs.
Instead, get early input from all stakeholders, noting which design features and functions different user groups will be most likely to use. Being a part of the design process gives students and librarians greater ownership of the space, resulting in more effective use of the space long-term. There’s nothing worse than designing a space or adding a feature that ultimately goes unused. By getting input from the people who will be using the space each day, you can ensure each part of your design has purpose and that your investment is going towards effective solutions for all stakeholders.
It’s impossible to create a library space that will meet the needs of every student, but providing choices improves the function and enjoyment of the space for everyone. For instance, standing desks are popular and functional for many students, but not every student wants to stand while they use a computer in the library. Adjustable height tables solve this problem, giving students the option to select their preferred desk height for optimal comfort and engagement. Similarly, a variety of seating around the library that is both mobile and adjustable allows students to configure their workspace to meet their needs. Mobile furnishings––including mobile whiteboards and mobile stations––make it easy to transform various areas throughout the library into the ideal space students or teachers need to work collaboratively and give presentations. Taking a student-centered approach and providing choice throughout the library space leads to a more comfortable, inviting, and accessible space for all.
Thinking about a “modern library” might elicit images of computer labs, podcast studios, and makerspaces, but in most schools, books are still very much a priority for students and educators, alike. Especially in elementary grades, it’s important for libraries to contain book collections that are easy to browse. Older students might only use the school library to access research materials, but having a collection of physical media is still necessary for most schools. With this in mind, a student-centered library space needs visible and accessible shelving for books and other physical materials. Gone are the days of bulky, dingy shelving organized into confusing, dark aisles. Modern library spaces remove excess, outdated media, and make all reading materials easier for students to find and use.
In terms of technology, future tech developments could change the needs of a library space at any time. Building flexibility into your library design is key to ensure the space continues to be student-centered even when its media and technology changes. This includes flexible and mobile furnishings, as well as designing breakout spaces into the library––such as small rooms or divided sections––that can be transformed into spaces that support the next big technology trends.
These design tips can help you design a functional and engaging student-centered library space that students, teachers, and librarians are excited to use. Contact us at MiEN today if you’re searching for a design partner that centers the needs of all stakeholders and creates effective and innovative library spaces.