The contributors to this volume provide compelling, diverse visions of the library, its services, and its space at the turn of the twenty-first century. The diversity of their views underscores the point that no single paradigm exists for library design. Nonetheless, the essays also suggest some key ingredients in what might be viewed as a recipe for successful design. Good design, these experts write, is driven by an understanding not only of what users do but also of how they work. The design process involves the active participation of many stakeholders-students, faculty, academic officers, information technologists, librarians-as well as an experienced architect. Good design reflects serious consideration of institutional mission and how space can advance that mission-whether it be learning, knowledge production, or civic engagement. The essays in this volume also suggest that good design takes risks: It is often imaginative and entrepreneurial. The intent of good design is realized, and a library’s services are enriched, by staff who are prepared to take on new roles and opportunities.

We recognize the result of good design. It is space that inspires. It is space that reflects a community’s vision of itself and that reinforces connections within, and among, communities. It may be an intellectual space that brings together disciplines and allows them to build on one another. Or it may be space designed to bridge academic and public communities, bringing civic debate to the academy and contributing scholarship to the public good. Well-designed spaces accommodate the varying needs of users, and can even be molded and managed by them. Equally important, such spaces can be easily retooled to meet future needs. It enables librarians to devote their time and skills to supporting users in the best way possible, often as teachers or partners in research.

And what of the debate over the need for bricks and mortar? To be sure, projects that bring research material online are welcome developments, bringing us one step closer to the ideal of the universal library-as desirable today as it was in the reign of the Ptolemies. But ironically, while the information critical to scholarship and the public good is becoming more accessible than ever in the twenty-first century, access alone is rarely enough to serve the needs of scholarship, teaching, learning, and public inquiry today. The authors of this volume examine many of these needs and show how the library is uniquely suited to meet them. In these essays, the library as place is very much alive.

The perspectives and examples offered here are meant to provoke thinking and discussion among those who are planning new space or are considering the future of their libraries. Library planners may wish to explore more deeply some of the ideas raised by the authors, such as the development of off-site repositories or planning for technology, or to learn more about the planning experiences of other institutions. As a supplement to the references provided within the essays, we have listed additional references on the following pages.


Skip to content