Now more than ever, libraries provide a resource for citizens as well as a forum for enlightenment, education, and community building. In addition to the traditional role as a collection of books, their resources and programs also offer something for patrons of every age:
- Teen After-School activities (study, gaming, projects)
- Adult Education (EFL language training, Digital Literacy, cultural events)
- Co-working Space
- New Immigrant Support Services
- Local History Archives
In many ways, libraries serve as a Community Center and as such, they help to draw visitors to the city center whether one is walking or driving. This can form a symbiotic relationship with other downtown businesses in the immediate area.
COVID / Pandemic Impact
Of course, everything changed in March when libraries were forced to close completely during the height of the pandemic lockdown that extended through the spring of 2020. Nevertheless, many libraries chose to maintain their strong Wi-Fi service during the lockdown. It was interesting to note how, once we could leave our homes, this drew computer users from the community like moths to a flame. Many reported patrons sitting outside their closed libraries, either in cars or in socially distant outdoor settings, using laptops to access the web. Of course, this didn’t help those patrons who lacked portable computers and who rely on the computer stations available in the library – a vital library service.
Everyone has struggled with being homebound. Children require supervision and educational opportunities. Older children may be trying to continue high school or college programs with remote learning. In many cases, both parents may also be trying to continue working remotely from home. This has put increasing strains on both quiet workspaces in the home and home internet and Wi-Fi capacity.
As the lockdown gradually loosens, the community has been eager to partake in available library services even with new regulations on social distancing in place.
Child-oriented activities are in demand, even as social distancing requirements have greatly reduced capacities.
- Many college students have chosen to attend their school remotely this semester rather than risk exposure on campus. This has added to the pressure on families to find quiet spaces for adult workers, students and children in their homes. The library can provide a suitable alternative, particularly when both parents in a household are trying to work from home simultaneously.
- While good weather lasts, the outdoor spaces at libraries (courtyards, gardens, etc.) provide a great opportunity to work outdoors with plentiful natural ventilation while benefiting from the available internet access.
Where do we go from here?
Once we come out the other end of this pandemic, it is expected that some practices introduced during the lockdown will likely continue permanently. Many businesses and workers are recognizing that “work from home” (WFH) can save on costs, traffic congestion, and travel time, while providing flexibility for employees and their families. More data is needed, but anecdotal evidence suggests that in many cases productivity has not suffered and has sometimes increased. It is likely that where possible, this flexible approach to work will become the norm. So, while the need for commercial office space may decline in the near term, demand for other alternatives both at home and in the community will increase.
Everyone has become more comfortable with virtual meeting software (GoToMeeting, Zoom, etc.). This will likely lead to less in-person meetings or more “hybrid” meetings combining both in-person and remote participants. While the need for meeting space may be impacted by this trend, it will certainly lead to increased technology to allow for these virtual meetings.
Makerspace has become a popular initiative at many libraries, whether oriented to teens or for all ages. It provides space, equipment, and support to work on special projects. The equipment could include such things as computer graphics, 3D Printing, video and sound recording, sewing and clothing design, jewelry design, etc.
Libraries are also seeing the impact of a growing “Sharing Culture”. This can be reflected in a “Library of Things” that patrons don’t need to purchase for limited use, but can borrow from the library, as needed. These might include: tools, sewing machines, cameras, and all manner of rarely used items.
As a cultural center for the community, libraries can offer a broad spectrum of events showcasing art, music, literature, public affairs, and history that’s accessible to all. Again, while multi-purpose meeting spaces may accommodate fewer occupants, technology can provide a much larger virtual audience.
In summary, the library is evolving, but it is and will continue to be a vital piece of the Downtown puzzle, drawing all ages of the community to the heart of the community.
Blog feature photo credit (top of page): Robert Benson, Robert Benson Photography
About the Author & TSKP STUDIO
Mr. T. Whitcomb Iglehart has 36 years of professional experience as an Architect. Since joining TSKP STUDIO in 1985 Whit has served as Project Director for many of the firm’s largest and most complex projects. He is qualified as a Historical Architect, having authored applications for landmark and registry status and has worked regularly on the restoration and redevelopment of historic sites. In recent years he has focused on both municipal and higher-ed library projects.
TSKP STUDIO is a partnership of collaborative architects and interior designers who recognize that libraries are the heart of every community and the place where residents become engaged citizens. They are dedicated to bringing design excellence to libraries with inspiring, functional, and healthy environments that attract users of all ages.