Off-Script with Laura Plosz: The Future of Libraries

Photo: Nyle Segovia / University of Saskatchwan Branch Libraries Masterplan
Photo: Nyle Segovia / University of Saskatchwan Branch Libraries Masterplan

We pinned Laura Plosz while she was on the bus home from Regina to Saskatoon to pick her brain on current library trends and technology. Here are the results of our Q&A period:

Q: Group2 is in the midst of wrapping up a Master Plan for the University Saskatchewan Branch libraries, for those that don’t know, what exactly is a Master Plan?

A: That’s a great question, I would describe it as a high-level plan (looking down onto the plan from high above) to describe how to best use a space. A Master Plan identifies how a space would best be used to support the current and the future function. In this case, and the focus on the branch libraries, we’ve been asked to look at where libraries are going and how to best support that with the space that’s available. We are doing that from a 30,000ft level or from a very high level.

Q: How will this Master Plan affect Libraries on campus?

A: As opportunities arise for the individual branch libraries to be renovated it’ll provide a framework for the continuing discussion, dialogue and design development of those spaces. Doing the master plan allows us to look at the University library system in a totality and to understand where the unique elements need to reside and avoid duplication across campus, but also make sure that functions that need to be supported at each library can come into play at each of them.

Q: What is the new trend in libraries for secondary education or libraries in general?

A: I see two trends that I want to touch on:

1. Supporting Knowledge Creation
Traditionally we think of libraries as housing books – where information is kept, and it’s happening in those books. The evolution we are really seeing is that libraries are not just about sharing that information but also about helping people create new information and knowledge which can then be shared. We are seeing a lot of maker spaces being put in both academic libraries and public libraries. Other types of spaces are visualization labs which allow you to look at a lot of information on different screens and to work collaboratively with other people to develop strategies and manipulate information and create new pieces as you’re moving along in that creative process.

2. Unwind Spaces
This is the second trend I see coming through academic libraries right now. From that need to unwind or refocus, to refocus on something else so that you can then come back to your studying, writing or knowledge creation with much greater focus and attention. Having these other types of spaces allow you to take a break, step away, and come back in a much more focused way. We heard this from students in all colleges and groups that they really wanted that ability to de-stress and come back to their task. We’ve seen some temporary ways of accommodating. The use of trained therapy dogs that you can pet on campus. Those have been wildly popular, one had a lineup of two hundred people to see the therapy dogs. The other branch libraries have set up colouring of finely detailed drawings as another way to de-stress or refocus your mind in another way. There has been talk as well of how to appropriately support napping on campus – that does come with some security space problems that need to be addressed, but again, there is this need to take a break and return in a much more refreshed way. I think why it’s also important on campuses is because many students are either living in small spaces, perhaps dorms, or they are living in shared living quarters where they may not have a space to study so they’re really using that library as a study space. Students need a place to take a break that they would normally do at home, but because they’re in the library space they need to be able to take that break there or in the proximity before coming back to their task again.

R

Q: Regina Public Library just had their grand re-opening yesterday, can you tell us about the space and how it was designed?

A: Okay, that’s a big question but we can tackle it. The grand re-opening is in the same existing location it’s been in for the past 25 years but has been fully renovated and expanded. The library itself is located in the Southland Mall of Regina. The previous space wasn’t integrated into the mall and didn’t have a direct entrance to the mall stream. It was off to the side and kind of at the back – not many people knew it existed back there. It wasn’t somewhere you’d be walking by and see a program going on and say, “ah, that looks interesting!” and pop in, it wasn’t visually accessible at all. An opportunity came up about a year ago that two retail spaces became available that were adjacent to the library, so the library decided to lease those and embark upon the expansion.

The process of design was very collaborative. We started the process off with a number of workshops that included not only staff of the library but representatives from the general public, different groups that use the libraries, volunteers that teach English as a second language within the library space, and some representatives from the mall. It was a, you know, pretty broad cross section of groups. We held two different workshops with these groups. We worked through a series of exercises to identify what the guiding principles were for the project. What were the expectations, what did it need to achieve in order to be successful. Working with the group we were able to refine that down to seven different guiding principles and started to use those as a way to check in on the development of the programming and the layout of the facility. By always going back and asking ourselves, “does this design meet the needs that were identified in those guiding principles and does it do it to a better degree or a lesser degree than another way or a different option.” So through that exercise we were able to define three strategies for renovating and expanding the library.

The three design options:
1. Minimal intervention that focused on the newly leased space that the library had not held before.
2. Renovating the newly acquired commercial space and some renovation of the existing space as well to knit them together better and address more of those guiding principles.
3. A complete renovation of the existing space plus the renovation of the newly acquired space.

Through the stakeholder process it came through that doing the full renovation allowed the library to meet more of the guiding principles effectively. Ultimately that was the design the library board selected to move forward with. Some consideration with that is that this project represented an opportunity for the Regina Public Library to really think about the future. Think about here they are going and how the space could be designed to accommodate that, both in terms of accommodating specific programs right now, but also being very flexible to adapt for future needs because we can’t foresee all of the changes that are going to be coming.

There are a lot of spaces within the library that are designed to appeal to different groups and to work in very different ways so that they can be programmed effectively. For example, we heard over and over that the library needed to feel like a living room or a coffee shop, a place where you would want to meet someone, sit comfortably and relax then be able to read over a magazine or a newspaper or a book. That would be really great for people that were there with a friend or spouse where one had to do some shopping and the other, if they wanted, could relax in the library, learn about something, catch up or create something.

Another area is called the Creation Cube, this is one of those spaces that really focuses on knowledge creation. The space is provided with a lot of power and data connections so that computers can be brought in, or specialized equipment such as a 3D printer. They can host short or long sessions within the space for groups to work together on or with certain technology and components to create.

There is also a teen area where gaming system is set up, Apple TV for streaming, comfortable seating, seating appropriate for gaming, appealing books for teens, and the ability to charge devices. These spaces are still contained in the library but set off to the side so it creates a space that is for teens. It has been shown that the group particularly will not go to a library unless a space is designed to their needs in mind. Importantly, the acoustics are highly absorptive so that any sound from gaming or being boisterous – which is what they are encouraging the teens to do in that space – and doesn’t disturb people outside that space. This space is designed to be open and inviting for teens in an also contained in a way.

Other areas focus specifically on children. Again, those are areas that users can be loud and boisterous. This piece is also set to the side but open, and visible from other areas in the library.

There are study and focused environments with different furniture options and ranging to computers for patrons to browse the collection and to browse the internet. Other components include two programming rooms that are available for booking by the community while also accessible from the exterior for after-hours access. Those rooms can be used during times when the library is closed. That was something that came through loud and clear from different groups that have been part of the stakeholder component. Again, these rooms are set off to the side but still available from the library. One has a sliding operable wall so that it is flexible to be closed off or open and completely out of the way. The other room has a large garage door and that area can be left open or closed off to feel connected and a part of what is happening.

U of S Branch Libararies Science

Q: Where do you see libraries going in the next 10-20 years?

A: I think and hope we’re going to see libraries considered the heart of communities and clustered with other amenities like shopping malls, rec. centres, schools. That’s when they can achieve the greatest potential, when they are co-located with the library. People can pop in and borrow a book, research a certain topic, meet with other people who are also interested in those similar components and really delve into that creative piece.

I also see libraries invest more and more in different technologies because this is one of the best ways that we can ensure that everyone in society has access to these tools, can be exposed to them, learn how to use them, and find new ways to use these components and really push this knowledge creation piece forward.

Q: How do you imagine your dream library?

A: That’s a tough one. In terms of my dream library I think it would be connected to the community school, community recreation centre so that I can pop in while my kids are training or doing a certain activity so it can be completely integrated into my life and into my community, and it would be on a bike route too.