Many Danish public libraries are experimenting with combining public libraries with school libraries into integrated libraries. The establishment of an integrated library requires careful consideration of interior layout and flexibility, since the combined library must be able to accommodate different purposes, needs and activities in one unit.
Public library and school library
As a starting point, public libraries and school libraries (or “pedagogical learning centres”, PLCs) have each their own purpose: Public libraries are for everybody and should host cultural experiences – primarily outside school and working hours. PLCs are to contribute to creating learning for children during school hours. As a result, close collaboration and a combination of the two library types can be an interior design challenge.
However, integrated libraries also have noticeable advantages, as the different library types share similar framework needs. By combining the two library types in one integrated library, it is possible both to save on facility expenses and to develop learning centres with cultural options for children and adults alike, and the library opening hours can be extended.
There is no fixed rule as to how many m2 the ideal integrated library should have. This depends partly on how big the school is, and partly on how many children the library should be able to accommodate at a time. The library must flexibly be able to accommodate all the children that comes at the same time as the other users.
It is a common challenge to both teachers and librarians to design the physical library space. The space solution must work as an experience and learning space where the users are engaging in for instance in workshop functions, events and exhibitions, and provide users with access to computers and state-of-the-art digital media – preferably when it suits the users best between 08:00 and 22:00.
- What are the access conditions to the integrated library like? Is there access both from the street and from the school, so that no one will feel that they are stepping into unfamiliar territory?
- What should the opening hours be at the integrated library? This is of relevance to the access conditions and the installation of lending and returning machines as well as signage.
- Can the space accommodate activities for both children and adults?
- Is the space dynamic and flexible for both experiences and learning activities?
- How can children and adolescents be included in the interior design of their (own) library?
- Which workshop activities would be ideally suited to taking place at the library? Is a storage space available?
- How can adjoining passage areas and any landings be used in the interior design?
- How do you establish creative spaces where people will enjoy staying and learning?
Physical access conditions
When planning an integrated library, you need to consider the access conditions. Ideally, there should be access both from the street and from the school so that no one will feel that they are stepping into unfamiliar territory. The integrated library should not be placed deep inside a school, down intricate corridors and stairs, as there are limits to how many people school management would want to see moving around the school during teaching time.
There should also be access to the integrated library from a public road, and preferably from a car park, so that the physical access signals that the library is accessible to all – also if you arrive in a wheelchair.
Interior design that suits everybody's needs
It is essential that the activity defines the use of the different areas in the integrated library. In other words, it is less important whether the space is suited specifically for children, adolescents, adults, schoolchildren or other citizens. This calls for thorough planning of flexible zones where the areas set the stage for specific activities. Careful planning of the surroundings can, in the best possible way, encourage the individual user to behave in a particular way without limiting their freedom of choice.
Many children have a strong presence, both physically and acoustically, and they need space to romp around. Adult library users more often need quiet spaces that facilitate in-depth reading and concentration.
Cultural activities at the library during the day pose requirements on flexible spaces and a flexible layout, e.g. bookcases and tables on wheels. Landings and similar can be used, for instance, as a stage for different shows.
A variety of workspaces
In the integrated library, there should be study places both for individuals who want to sit alone, and for small groups. Some pupils prefer to lie down when they work, others prefer to stand up, and so the workspaces should vary in form and appearance.
The library also needs to provide space for other users who prefer tranquil areas for in-depth reading. For these users, who are oft adults, it can be a good idea that adult novels, newspapers, journals and computers are located in an area that does not appeal to children.
It is a good idea to set up workspaces for children and adults who bring along their own computers. Individual spaces do not take up a lot of room; they can be established, for instance, by a window or column, or individually across the room. Study places for small groups can be in the form of folding tables, which can quickly be pushed aside if need be, or they can be used for other activities when there are no learning activities.
There should be room for cultural events and other experiences that require seating and a clear view, such as talks, small and large group meetings, workshops etc. These areas can also be combined with other functions, so that they are not left empty when there are no mayor events on the agenda. The areas can be designed flexibly for functions such as exhibitions, communication, information etc.
Makerspace, 3D printers, Lego Mindstorm and other new facilities and activities are gaining ground at libraries and schools, and the libraries' introductions to the new tools can be of benefit to as well children as adults.
In this context, it is a good idea to have storage facilities, either in adjacent rooms or in lockable cupboards for the different productions.
Further to the physical settings, it is also worth considering how the staff at the two libraries is to work together. Should there be a clear division between two independent libraries, each with its own specialist staff (teacher-trained PLC supervisors and public librarians)? Or should the public library and the PLC be set up with a joint management and organisation, where the staff helps each other both professionally and with practical everyday tasks? It is important that the staff sense the benefit from collaborating and the value of each other's resources.
BLIK Library near Græsted in Gilleleje Municipality has for several years been a pioneer in this field, presenting interesting ideas as to how to create an integrated library. BLIK’s solution to the staff collaboration issue is an interdisciplinary composed team that works together to provide the very best library service to children and local residents.07. Mar 2017 at. 12:08