April 2018 NMRT Discussion: Designing Welcoming Spaces on a Budget

By: Elayna Turner

April’s discussion topic was Designing Welcoming Spaces on a Budget. This topic focused on ways that libraries running on tight budgets could make their spaces more accessible and welcoming to their patrons. Many libraries simply do not have the budget to perform a major renovation, but that shouldn’t mean that there aren’t things a library can do to update their look and feel.

Examples of this include shifting your stacks around to create more open space, repurposing a room as a group collaboration space, ditching the traditional reference desk for a “roving reference” model, or even repurposing a space for quiet and meditation. These kinds of changes may seem small, but they can have a great impact on your patrons by allowing your patrons to see the library as more than just a silo of books, but as a welcoming community space.

During the month for this discussion, some practical solutions were discussed. As an academic librarian, I shared my library’s experience with our second floor redesign which involved moving the stacks downstairs and creating an open group study space. The floor was loaded with tables and chairs, study cubicles, and computers. The space has become a destination for students to work together and it was accomplished by moving stacks around and repurposing furniture that was sitting in storage.
Another participant said that they considered what is was that “welcoming” meant as “we often consider the physical spaces at the expense of other factors that happen in concert with space aesthetics and feelings of ‘welcome.’”

As their library added more programming and events they noted that “…the one quiet reading room we had was no longer enough to support those who needed less noise. So, we repurposed most of our second floor as a Quiet Zone. The floor now has study carrels (which used to be mostly downstairs – where most of our noisier actions occur). We added a “quasi-private” individual seating spaces on the floor, and we also created an area of quiet group study tables – the “quiet” is aided by portable white boards that students can use to write out notes for group contemplation. This area is highly used and the quiet is successfully self- enforced by students.”

Considering these two different approaches to redesigning library space, there is certainly no one-size-fits-all solution for libraries. One library needed less quiet space while the other needed to reclaim more and there are an infinite number of differences libraries have. Each library has its own unique needs and these have to be considered when planning to make any changes. Librarians and staff should get together and discuss possible changes – even take a stroll around the building to see where improvements can be made. Talking to patrons and taking their point of view into consideration is also key to making positive changes.

Every little step counts and can get you one step closer to making your library a more welcoming space for all. After reading this, I suggest taking a look around. What would you change? What do you dislike or find unwelcoming about your setup? What do your coworkers think? Maybe even stop one of your regular patrons and ask what they would change to make things better. You might be surprised by the little things you can change and how they can make a big difference!

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