Council on Library and Information Resources

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Libraries Designed for Learning

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by Scott Bennett
November 2003

Copyright 2003 by the Council on Library and Information Resources. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transcribed in any form without permission of the publisher. Requests for reproduction should be submitted to the Director of Communications at the Council on Library and Information Resources.


About the Author





1. Planning Library Space to Advance Learning and Teaching
2. Level of and Motivations for Investment in Library Space
3. Library Project Responses to Motivating Factors
Accommodating Growing Collections
Accommodating Improved Library Services
Accommodating Students' Needs for Learning Space
4. Project Planning Methods
5. Character of Planning Methods and their Outcomes
6. Choice of Architect
7. Ownership of the Planning Process
8. Partnerships in Planning Library Space for an Impact on Learning
Figure 1: Investment in library space, 1992–2001
Figure 2: Strongest project motivators
Figure 3: Weakest project motivators
Figure 4: Bipolar project motivators
Figure 5: Frequently used planning methods
Figure 6: Infrequently used planning methods
Figure 7: Distribution of architects


Quantitative Data from the Study Survey
Table 1: Library Journal building statistics
Table 2: Study survey demographics
Chart 1: Size of projects in the study sample (all projects)
Chart 2: Size of projects in the study sample (projects less than 100,000 GSF)
Table 3a: Analysis of responses to question 1 of the study survey
Table 4a: Analysis of responses to questions 2–13 of the study survey
Table 5: Distribution of architects
Summary of Qualitative Comments Made by Survey Respondents
Summary and Partial Transcriptions of the Phone Interviews with Library Directors and Chief Academic Officers
Quantitative Findings of a Survey Conducted for the Council of Independent Colleges
Table 6a: Survey of library directors and chief academic officers
at CIC institutions: questions 1 and 2
Table 6b: Survey of library directors and chief academic officers
at CIC institutions: question 3


Investment Parameters
Survey of Academic Institutions Undertaking Library Construction
between 1992 and 2001
Survey Instrument
Interviews of Library Directors and Chief Academic Officers at Some Institutions that Responded to the Survey



Table 3b. Analysis by institutional type of responses to question 1 of the study survey
Table 3c. Analysis by date of project completion of responses to question 1 of the study survey
Table 4b. Analysis by institutional type of responses to questions 2–13 of the study survey
Table 4c. Analysis by date of project completion of responses to question 2–13 of the study survey
Summary of Qualitative Comments Made by Survey Respondents
Phone Interview Summaries
Letter to Library Directors Inviting their Participation in the Study
Phone Interview Procedures for Library Directors

About the Author

Scott Bennett is Yale University Librarian Emeritus. He has had extensive experience with library planning, construction, renovation, and restoration at Yale and in his service as the Sheridan director of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University, and as assistant university librarian for collection management at Northwestern University. He has also served on both the library and the English department faculties of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) sponsored this report. The author is especially grateful to Deanna Marcum for her long-sustained interest in this study. The author is, however, solely responsible for the study data and their interpretation. Nothing in this report necessarily reflects the views of CLIR or CIC.

The author wishes to thank most warmly the nearly 250 academic library directors who responded to the survey that was one basis for this report. He is also deeply indebted to the 31 librarians and academic officers who agreed to be interviewed at some length for this study. The author assured all of these persons they would not be identified as individuals in the study, so they cannot be thanked here by name. But whatever merit the study may have comes directly from their generous participation.

At CLIR, Kathlin Smith provided thoughtful advice to the author at every turn, was tolerant of delays, and ably guided the study through to publication.

For other expert assistance, generously given, the author thanks Nicholas Burckel, Robert Burger, Pamela Delphenich, David DeMello, Richard Ekman, Amy Harbur, Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, Danuta Nitecki, Susan Perry, and Nancy Roderer. The staff and the collections at the University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign made it a joy to do this study. Finally, the author wishes to thank his many colleagues at Yale University—librarians, faculty, academic officers, facilities planners and managers, architects, and engineers—from whom he leaned so much about library space planning.


For centuries, people have visited libraries to find information, and the practical needs of housing collections and accommodating readers have typically driven library design. In many cases, design has reached further, to create a place that inspires the individual and the intellect. Whatever the form, library buildings have become physical symbols for the life of the mind.

As technological advances of the past 20 years have made it possible for people to find information without entering a library building, some have asked whether the bricks-and-mortar library is doomed to extinction. Yet others maintain that the growth of technology has made the library even more important because it enables access to electronic content, services, and training that would otherwise be unavailable to information seekers.

Library design and construction of the past decade have responded to changes in information technology in a variety of ways, from incorporating
electronic classrooms for teaching information literacy to physically integrating the space where electronic and print materials are kept. Some libraries have created “information commons,” equipped with technology and staffed by information specialists. Such developments, while responding to new technologies, have nonetheless continued to support the traditional goal of enabling the manipulation and mastery of information.

In his provocative essay, Scott Bennett asks whether the goal of libraries
today might more appropriately be described as “supporting collaborative
learning by which students turn information into knowledge and sometimes into wisdom.” He bases his question on changes in teaching and study habits of the past 20 years—changes distinguished by an increasing emphasis on group and collaborative work. He also references recent literature on learning that discusses knowledge creation as a community project. As Joan Bechtel, whose work is noted in part 4 of this report, writes, “the new paradigm for librarianship . . . is conversation.”

To what extent have recent library design projects been driven by an understanding of how students learn and how faculty teach? To find out what motivated academic library renovation and construction in the past decade and how library planning was conducted, Mr. Bennett conducted an extensive survey and did follow-up interviews with library directors and chief academic officers. He concludes that while most recent library projects serve users well, they have rarely been informed by a systematic assessment of how students learn and faculty teach. The author suggests that planning based on such an assessment could equip the library to serve an even more vital function as a space for teaching and learning.

The topic of this report is central to CLIR’s interest in exploring the changing role of the library in the digital world. We are grateful to the author
for bringing new insight to this question. We are also grateful to the Council on Independent Colleges, and to Richard Ekman, for supporting Mr. Bennett’s early work on this topic.

Kathlin Smith
Director of Communications



This report seeks two groups of readers: academic librarians who have significant responsibility for library construction and renovation projects, and campus academic officers who wish to engage substantively with the question of how library space can advance the core learning and teaching missions of their institutions.

Readers of this report will likely have already consulted the exceptionally
useful book, Planning Academic and Research Library Buildings, by Philip D. Leighton and David C. Weber. For all its merits, this book simply assumes that “those undertaking a major remodeling project, an addition, or a new separate facility have some understanding of the process of analyzing an institution’s mission and objectives, [and] can determine the nature of space that should be provided” (p. xxvi). The weight of this assumption is evident in the fact that this 900-page book gives only one page of text to describing academic objectives and the library (chapter 1, section 2), and just two pages to defining the building problem (chapter 1, section 4), where problems are defined primarily in terms of ordinary library operational needs. A slightly longer section, entitled Character and Nature of the Academic or Research Institution (chapter 3, section 1), is little more than an elaborated checklist of routine but important considerations in planning.

The authors of Planning Academic and Research Library Buildings might reasonably give little attention to such fundamental issues. It is, after all, commonly the case that severe problems with library space go unaddressed for years, or even decades, ensuring that most members of the academic community have vivid, firsthand experience of them. Living so long with problems usually leaves people certain what the problems are, eager to have them addressed, and confident in judging whether a library project has succeeded.

Where such long-accumulating problems urgently demand attention, opportunities to engage with emerging trends in student learning and faculty teaching may be less obvious and less compelling to those who set priorities and pay for buildings. This report attempt to understand how library space planning can move beyond the confines of past experience to engage with new visions of what the library should be. It does this by exploring what motivated academic library projects in the 1990s and how the building activity of that decade responded to some key academic needs as well as to the traditional operational needs of libraries.

Another book on library architecture notes that “librarianship may be the only profession that derives its name from a particular type of building, the library, which in turn derives its name from a particular physical object, the book. Quite literally, a librarian is one who takes care of books in a building designed to store them. Physicians and nurses are not hospitalians; attorneys are not courtians; and teachers are not schoolians. But librarians are, well, librarians”(Crosbie and Hickey 2001, 6)* The effort of this report is to get beyond the literal obligation of libraries described here to a more powerful understanding of the responsibility that librarians, along with others who care deeply about libraries, have to make library buildings fit homes for the learning and teaching processes by which knowledge moves between people and its embodiment in printed books and in fleeting electronic digits.

This report is organized in four parts:

  • Part 1 interprets the key findings of the research on which the report is based. This section observes that in the 1990s, higher education saw transformative changes in student learning, faculty teaching methods, and information technology. These changes prompted some responses in library space planning over the last decade, but in many respects the libraries designed in the 1990s were not fundamentally different in concept from those designed in the 1960s. There are good reasons why this should be so, but those reasons obscure two important issues: (1) a bias in library space planning that favors the provision of library services at the expense of the social identity of learning and of knowledge; and (2) a fractured responsibility within the campus community for library space planning, which works against planning that is responsive to the institution’s fundamental educational goals.
  • Part 2 presents the research data of the study in as neutral an interpretative environment as possible. This is done to enable readers to appraise these data independently of the interpretative essay in part 1.
  • Part 3 describes the research methodologies used in the study. Its purpose is to enable readers to judge how reliable the study’s findings
    are and to explore further the implications of the study data.
  • Part 4 presents a highly selective, annotated list of readings on library space planning. The list is meant to suggest the range and character of available publications and to point the readers of this report to other useful material.

* It now appears that some doctors are called "hospitalists”—i.e., doctors that treat patients while they are in the hospital, instead of the patient's primary care physician or the specialist that performed an operation.

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