When I consider the various libraries I have frequented over my life, it is often the memories of comfort experienced in the surroundings of a library that stand out. This comfort is not just about loving books, as I am sure that the atmosphere of a library contributed to my lifelong love of learning and books. It relates to a comfort that enabled me to keep coming back as it welcomed and supported my needs and learning.
In reflecting on my fondness of my primary school library, at Ferncourt Primary School, the little nooks that were set up with comfortable cushions enclosed by a couple of smaller shelves, provided the comfort to select books at my leisure and just browse in my own time. This promoted a sense of autonomy in knowledge acquisition as I had responsibility for selection with no guidance from an adult. It felt like discovery to me. In addition to this, there were visual displays throughout the library with changing themes. These displays often promoted the arousal of interest as a new direction in learning was pursued.
The sound of the library is another element that is of importance for while we think of libraries in hushed tones, in my primary school context, there were various zones established that promoted social interaction. For example the table areas set up where children can play various games, from Chess to Scrabble in addition to the craft and drawing areas where one can sit down and engage in a creative activity. This happened alongside storytelling sessions and the A/V room was often booked for viewing. There was a headphone area where one can listen to audiobooks or music. This was all prior to the advent of computers in libraries and the challenge that technology presents to library design.
Clearly the idea of a library being totally hushed is not a true representation. Rather, the library has zones that promote different uses. Some are quiet study zones and others are social interactive zones. The library set-up provides guidance to various zones promoting either quiet study, social interaction or providing cues for interests that can be pursued. All this was embedded in a way that appeared to be subtle yet I am quite aware that a great deal of thought is invested in considering the design of a library for specific purposes.
Library Atmospherics is concerned specifically with the atmosphere of the library and how design principles are applied to enhance the experience of the library by creating a learning and social environment for various uses similar to the environment created by my primary school in the 1970’s.
A great example highlighting the approach to a design brief for a library is given by Opus Architecture. In the following link, there is a description of how this design team in New Zealand took the brief of the various atmospheric elements and created a library to accommodate and promote the various uses of a library at Massey University in Auckland.
Following is a USA based company called Creative Arts Unlimited. Some of their projects have been library interiors for school-based libraries. The photos below are examples of designs with atmospherics specific to library patronage of school children in mind. The subquotes come from the descriptor provided by the design company.
“Creative Arts recently completed the design and fabrication of this “Florida” themed library. Florida inspired design motifs create a truly unique children’s library environment. Ornate window coverings and 3-D tabletops with original artwork help set the tone for the children’s area.”
“For St. Petersburg College, a library fit for the whole community was the challenge. Creative arts built themed children’s and young adult areas for two college libraries – one a storybook theme with castle desks and an Enchanted Puppet Theater and the other an underwater theme complete with an acrylic-fabricated coral reef seating area, a six-carrel fish computer station, and a puppet theater.”
“For the North Sarasota Public Library, we created a bas-relief sculpted entryway showcasing animals native to Florida, an applied layer, dimensional mural on the wall below the windows and an alphabet seating arrangement.”
“Creative Arts designed and built the decorative elements and dimensional graphics for the children’s and young adults’ area. This project was featured on the cover of American Libraries in their May 2005 issue. The entrance to the teen area consists of two Mondrian-style wall panels with motion sensors which follow visitors as they walk down the hall. After completion of the library, Creative Arts solved a noise problem by designing and fabricating graphic acoustic panels for the community room.”
The design of the libraries above are certainly more extravagant than the school library of the school I attended but I am sure the children love visiting these libraries with the learning experience being enhanced immeasurably.
Beyond the interior of a library, the exterior is also of importance as this is the entry to the library and provides the welcome to all who enter. On that note I would like you to Picture This.