CLIRinghouse Number 18

Quick insight into information-investment issues for presidents, CAOs, and other campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Number 18, September/October 2003

The Issue for Presidents and CAOs:

Planning Library Space Investments

Summary: Colleges and universities have been investing heavily in library space to accommodate collections growth and students’ needs. In part through careful work with architects, results seem satisfactory in terms of better library operations. User involvement in planning, however, has been limited. A new study argues that if future planners study how teaching and learning modes relate to space, they can increase the educational return on library construction investments.

The Construction Boom

In the decade 1992–2001, American colleges and universities averaged annual expenditures of $449 million per year on library construction and renovation. Higher education institutions annually completed some 38 library projects, raising costs of space operation and maintenance by a cumulative total of $90.5 million by the decade’s end. Publications growth forced much of the expansion as librarians found that their need for more shelves crowded readers out, a situation only partially relieved by the advent and acceptance of electronic journals. A new report documents how planners conceived their library projects and provides insight about planning for campus executives who want maximum educational impact from library space investments.

Some Lessons Learned

Few lead architects for the 1990s construction projects had substantial experience designing libraries. Nonetheless, librarians found that developing deeply shared understandings with architects early in the process helped avoid costly false starts in design and costly change orders in construction. Most projects turned out to be satisfactory in terms of improving library service operations. Goals of library construction in the 1990s were primarily to add shelving, restore room for readers, and build in electronic technologies, expanding library services into virtual space. Librarians felt under such pressure to solve “the space problem” that they concentrated more on what could go into new space than on what users might be able to do in it. Library planners made efforts to involve users, but faculty tended to approve or veto proposals rather than generate ideas, and students, usually approached as just consumers of proffered services, contributed less. Support was crucial from chief academic officers, who made enabling decisions. Library directors, working with architects and institutional facilities staffs, became the primary determiners of space use.

Advice for Planners

Scott Bennett, Yale librarian emeritus and author of the new report, believes that future planners should go beyond the achievements of the 1990s to make the library not just an “information commons” but a “learning commons.” The focus would be less on library services than on educational impact. This would require systematic assessments by planners of how teachers teach, how students learn, and how library space could facilitate successful modes of inquiry and study. The survey of 1990s construction indicates that students heavily use library space designed for them, that they seek opportunities to work together, and that they create social spaces if such are not provided. Libraries have the advantage of being able to organize learning-activity space in proximity to materials for learning. If students and faculty become full partners with librarians in planning such uses of space, Bennett believes, libraries could become stronger contributors to education as well as providers of collections. But if “the accommodation of reader needs is narrowly conceived and secondary to provisions for library service operations,” he concludes, “the full value of higher education’s investments in library space will go unrealized.”

For more information

Scott Bennett’s study, Libraries Designed for Learning, will become available from the Council on Library and Information Resources in November 2003, in print and also, at no cost, on CLIR’s Web site: