Page D2.2 . 18 June 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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Current Issues in College Libraries


Although their content and services may differ, most campus libraries present a common set of issues for design and planning. Controlled access into, and wayfinding within, the facility must be supported by a clear and efficient layout of reading and reference areas, stacks, and staff work spaces.

Collections of materials must be shelved in reasonably contiguous areas, while allowing for expansion and reorganization. Reading areas need access to natural light, whereas stacks and computer terminals must be protected from direct sunlight.

Reader spaces must be generous enough to accommodate research needs and should provide a refuge for quiet study. A wide variety of seating, carrels or workstations, and generous tabletops must be well distributed throughout the library, close to research materials, as well as gathered in larger reading rooms.

The circulation desk and reference library must be readily visible and designed to facilitate services provided by library staff.

Of all the pertinent issues, circulation and functional organization are of foremost importance in successful library design. Planning library circulation and the sequence and adjacency of program components is driven by several key concerns: controlled access and security, overall orientation and ease of wayfinding, ready access by users to most frequented facilities, and efficient movement of staff to all service areas.

Spatial Programming

The library program must carefully set the best organization of adjacencies. Depending on the particular nature of the library, special functional areas may take prominence, such as listening rooms in a music library, or periodicals in a science library. Spaces for some auxiliary functions may best be located outside the main entry/ security checkpoint, such as classrooms, lecture rooms, group study rooms, 24-hour reading rooms, and exhibition or multiuse spaces.

Clarity of circulation greatly enhances library use and reduces the dependence on signs for wayfinding. Strategies may include the shape, scale, and three-dimensional form of aisles and corridors; visual continuity through open vistas between rooms; open stairs; memorable spaces to help the user form a quick and lasting mental map of the library; exterior views and natural light to reinforce important sequences of movement; and an overall building order using clear geometry and spatial hierarchy.

The last point is illustrated by some of the most celebrated library architecture. In the Trinity College Library at Cambridge, by Sir Christopher Wren, as well as in the Phillips Exeter Academy Library by Louis Kahn, the spatial order of the library has not only enhanced its use, but has represented the ordering of human knowledge that is at the heart of the library's meaning.

Although these are the historic concerns of library design, they lose none of their importance under the influence of more contemporary developments in media and technology. As new activities and systems are added to the contemporary library, it is important to think of them as integrated with, rather than substituting for, the basics of library function.

The uses of campus library facilities vary considerably according to discipline. Although a general, central library can still serve most of the campus, some specialized collections, such as law resources, are so integral to the academic program that they are best located at the particular departments.

English majors and doctoral candidates in history may make extensive use of print materials in the stacks and can be frequent users of nearby carrels. Students and faculty in bioengineering need ready access to research reports that are not yet in monographs or periodicals. Serving their needs means providing connectivity between libraries and researchers around the globe. However, as more and more material is digitized, the patterns of use adapt accordingly.

Current Trends Reconsidered

The campus library of the future may be less the subject of debate now than it was a few years ago, at least in terms of the impact of new technology. Academic librarians interviewed in a variety of disciplines agreed that it is no longer realistic to say that the computer will reduce the space requirements of libraries, let alone replace the facility altogether.

Books will continue to be produced and collected. Banks of computer workstations require more, not Iess, space than the old card catalog. And all of the new systems and media point to a dramatic increase in power supplied to the building, as well as the expanding information technology infrastructure to use it.

With the increasing array of materials, media, and systems, the expertise of the librarian becomes equally broadened. Campus librarians have expanded their role as instructors, leading classes on the use of both computers and traditional research methods.

Information technologists and webmasters may now be added to the core library staff, providing new kinds of services. Some speculate that libraries may become small-scale publishers by selectively transferring the flow of electronic information into print.

In general, the new systems and patterns of use are now seen to be additive, rather than reductive of the core library operations. This is of real significance for operating budgets, as the anticipated replacement of electronics for print cannot be counted on.

Many institutions will find that the operating cost of the old library must now be expanded by the operating cost of the new library. The implications for design are analogous: however up-to-date the systems are, good library planning must begin with the basics.

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John Ruble is a principal of Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners, a firm cofounded by Charles Moore.

This article is excerpted from College and University Facilities, copyright © 2003, available from John Wiley & Sons and at



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At the Fairfield Library at the California Institute of Technology offers spatial relief from the density of book stacks.
Photo: Courtesy John Wiley & Sons

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A circulation desk, like this one at the UCLA Law Library by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners, should be generous and easily identified.
Photo: Timothy Hursley

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An open-ended plan with clear zoning allows expansion in multiple ways.
Image: John Ruble

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A clear line of movement with options facilitates wayfinding at the UCLA Darling Law Library.
Photo: Courtesy John Wiley & Sons

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The Powell Library at the University of California, Los Angeles, includes a large computer commons.
Photo: Courtesy John Wiley & Sons

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Compact shelving is a quick way to increase stack capacity — if structural floor loads can be supported.
Image: John Ruble

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At the Hass Business School Library at the University of California, Berkeley by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners, data and power are typically integrated at tables and carrels.
Photo: Charles McGrath

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College and University Facilities, edited by David J. Neuman.


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