Assignment X: Libraries for the People, by the People

When most people think about libraries, they conjure up an image of a silent building for books, complete with stern librarians shushing any patrons speaking above a whisper. However, with the rise of the digital age, libraries are moving away from their traditional reputation. No longer are they a simple home for books, but a hub for information and community connections. When we think about the future of libraries we should make sure that our facilities are designed for the people they serve, not simply for the information they store.

An excellent example of prioritizing people in library design and services lies in the work that school librarians have done with their Media Center at Creekview High School in Georgia. Instead of creating a simple space for study, meetings, and internet access, the Media Center was designed to be the Unquiet Library, “a highly participatory learning environment embedded with interaction and technology”. (Matthews, 2010) The space is equipped for a variety of purposes from quieter activities like lounging and reflection, to instruction and conversation. It essentially functions as the largest classroom on campus, as well as an entertainment space for activities like trivia, poetry readings, live music, art exhibitions, and video games. When librarians introduce students to the Media Center, they incorporate personal devices like smartphones into the instructional material, establishing the Unquiet Library as a place that does not shy away from innovation. 

With librarians serving as part of the teaching staff, teachers getting involved in library services, and students looking forward to their time in the library, the creators of the Unquiet Library at Creekview High are an example of success with designing for the community over the information. (Matthews, 2010) Though the library initially opened eighteen years ago, it still sounds to me like the kind of forward thinking that has the chops to withstand the tests of time. I would have loved to have a community space like that during my time in high school, and I would love to see this type of design be prioritized more in both school and public library settings. 

While in the context of a school library or media center the focus is education, collaboration, and fun, translating the same innovative energy over to public libraries requires some rethinking and additional considerations, as the focus is now on the needs of an entire community. In the interview for his book, Palaces for the People, Eric Klinenberg discusses the idea of libraries as social infrastructure. (Peet, 2018) Before creating a physical infrastructure that effectively supports a community, designers should be considering many crucial ways that libraries support community learning and connection. If a library is not designed with input from the community, then it will not succeed in providing useful services and a beloved place for communication.

At base, designing libraries for the people we serve begins with simply understanding the community and their wants and needs. Incorporating highly-requested information as well as engaging ideas into design or layout of the library space could help to make the building more welcoming and simplified for new or timid patrons. Simple design ideas like a “citizenship corner” could go miles in ensuring that everyone feels welcome and supported by their local library. (Roberts, 2018) I see the future of libraries as a healthy combination of innovative design thinking and good old fashioned conversation. A librarian is only as good as their connection to the community. Without it, the heart of the organization may get lost along the way. 


Mathews, B. (2010). Unquiet library has high-schoolers geeked. American Libraries. 

Preet, L. (2018). Eric Klinenberg: Libraries and social infrastructure. Library Journal, 143(18), 1-10. 

Roberts, A. (2018). Designing adult services: Strategies for better serving your community. Libraries Unlimited. 


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