by Brent Mai, 2012 SLA President
We recently celebrated the first anniversary of the opening of the new library at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. At 74,000 square feet over three floors, it is truly a transformational building, serving a multitude of essential roles in the campus learning environment.
“But I thought books were a thing of the past,” I heard people say. “Why would anyone build a new library today?” Trust me! This thought even crossed the minds of some campus administrators. But these comments indicate a misconception about the role that the library as place plays in contemporary higher education.
With this in mind, our team set about designing a very adaptable building that could be relatively easily reconfigured as space needs and usages change in the coming years. Current needs called for room for about 200,000 volumes, teaching and meeting rooms, spaces for student interaction, faculty and staff offices, and a climate-controlled archive. But each of these use-defined spaces needed to be reconfigurable to accommodate a host of unknown future space needs.
With these practical needs in mind, it was also critical that we create a place where students actually wanted to be. In consideration of the variety of learning styles, we began by creating hard and soft spaces, loud and quiet spaces, and group and individual spaces. A mix of soft and comfortable seating arrangements were interspersed with more traditional tables and study carrels with wooden chairs. Ten group study rooms accommodating various numbers of students were distributed throughout the building. Quiet study areas were created on the upper floors of the building. Reliable wireless access and abundant electrical outlets were essential. A café added to the comfort factor of the space.
For us, the answer was to build flexibility into the structural components of the building. Several areas currently being used as classroom and meeting spaces have been structurally designed to hold the weight load of stacks and/or compact shelving – should that be needed. “False floors” have been installed in a number of spaces to accommodate future changes in technology needs. Most of the furniture is mobile – to accommodate the multi-use needs of public spaces and the varying instructional styles of faculty members in teaching spaces.
My colleagues, planning library spaces with an eye on the future isn’t rocket science. But intentionally planning for flexibility in new construction is definitely a component of being Future Ready!
There’s a photo of the new library at http://cvgs.cu-portland.edu/about/cu_library.cfm.
Brent Mai is University Librarian at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, and has been elected as 2012 President of SLA.