Smart Designs in Architecture for Libraries in the Digital Age

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More and more young adults are seeking out community spaces where they can gather and access research and information. Cities and universities are beginning to realize that libraries are the place to do both.

In this digital age, architects are being challenged to design library spaces that are not only for books but are also community spaces, meeting places, the creativity pods. The study of library science and how information access can apply to library designs for the future can be helpful in better understanding the changes in architecture for libraries in the digital age.

Library Designs in the Digital Age

According to Architectural Digest, the demand for library materials is still strong throughout the United States. The difference now is that current styles in architecture are not only using the library to hold books and other materials, but they are also using the materials as a centerpiece of the library’s design.


Image ALT Text: Classic library design.


The unveiling of the Seattle library in 2004 by Rem Koolhaas of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) was the start of a new era in library architecture in the United States. Koolhaas connected the need for a civic space with the ever-changing needs of the digital age. The books still take pride of place as they spiral through the center of the building, but Koolhaas and his team also thought about comfortable seating, workstations, quiet reading rooms, public meeting spaces, and an abundance of natural light.

Meredith TenHoor, an architectural historian and professor at the Pratt Institute School of Architecture, believes that the most innovative library designs consider the social and intellectual practices that develop around reading. Libraries are no longer places where people go to borrow library materials; they are spaces where people discover and learn. According to Architectural Digest, architects who are designing libraries in the digital age are beginning to understand the importance of books and library materials as part of the architectural presence.

Why Does the Design Matter?

According to Gary Shaffer, the program director for the University of Southern California’s (USC) Master of Management in Library and Information Science (MMLIS) & Graduate Certificate in Library and Information Management (LIM Certificate) programs and Assistant Dean of USC Libraries, libraries experience more activity now than they have in previous decades, and more public libraries exist in the United States than before.

Architects at Sheppard Robson believe that the main role of a library is to offer access to information, such as digital materials, books, or interactive media. Contemporary library designs must keep up with the ever-changing ways in which people access information so that libraries remain a central part of the community. To achieve this, design needs to not only create spaces for quiet reading but also make space for a broader range of activities.

Architects need to understand the type of library that they will be creating. Research libraries at a university will have different design needs than those of a city library. However, both should focus on the fact that people now consume and share information in different ways, and those ways will continue to shift over time. According to The Atlantic, the design should be focused on creating the best user experience. Knowing who the users are and what they seek is essential as users include both library patrons and staff.

Libraries for All Generations

According to American Libraries, every day in the United States, 10,000 people turn 65 years old. This rate is expected to hold steady through 2030. But what does this have to do with libraries? This research highlights the growing age spectrum across the United States’ population and thus the age spectrum of the library’s users.

While libraries are used by all generations surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, indicate that millennials are more likely to use their local library than any generation prior. This research has caused many city libraries to re-evaluate their collections, spaces and turning their focus to incorporating spaces for their users to congregate and work, according to Architectural Digest.

The widening age spread of patrons, as well as the diversity in how patrons are using libraries, create a demand that modern-day library design becomes versatile spaces that not only store volumes of books but also stand as community spaces, meeting places and creativity pods. With the amount of money that the government, non-profits, and private organizations are investing in redesigning city libraries, the designs also need to be forward-thinking designs.

Smart Designs in Architecture for Libraries in the Digital Age

Libraries across the United States have begun to undergo reconstruction and redesign. The Seattle library mentioned above was one of the first modern designs of the digital age, but since that time, thousands of libraries around the country have revealed completely new interiors that are sharing digital information and building community spaces.

The Columbus, Ohio Metropolitan Library was awarded the 2017 Library Building Award, an award sponsored in part by the American Institute of Architects. The library’s design centers on community spaces and activities and allowing the library to hold more events and lectures for its members.

The Varina Area Library in Henrico, Virginia also won the 2017 Library Building Award. This library is a new building situated on 22 acres of land. The town of Henrico now has a community space for 30,000 people in the surrounding region. The Varina Area Library worked closely with the design team to create a building that maximizes the view of the surrounding nature. Enclosed reading rooms combine with open spaces with computer stations and comfortable seating throughout the building allows for a mixed variety of events to take place in the space.

Educational Opportunities in Library Science Can Shape Understanding of Design

As the world becomes more focused on digital experiences, understanding library design and user expectations are essential. Libraries of the future are going to need leaders who understand evolving technologies and information access and the way present and future generations of patrons will use libraries for educational purposes and personal enrichment.

The online library and information science online programs at the University of Southern California (USC) is the nation’s only library and information science degree program offered through a leading school of business. For those interested in furthering their careers into high-level leadership and management, learn more about the USC Master of Management in Library and Information Science (MMLIS) and USC Graduate Certificate in Library and Information Management (LIM Certificate) online programs at the USC Marshall School of Business.