It’s been a really exciting semester working with MSR Design on the feasibility study for Davidson’s “library of the future” project. As we wrap up our last meetings and await the final report from MSR, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of library programming (our services, resources, and everything we do) driving the design of the space– versus the space driving programming. It can be difficult to communicate the why of design if you do not have the programming in place to support the decisions that are being proposed. Yes, it can be challenging to get the programming up to full speed when there are space constraints that keep you from maximizing what it is you are trying to do, but it is critical to not “wait on the space” to drive the programming. Perhaps that means implementing a mini-version of what that program could “grow up to be”– as in the case of our Research & Design Studio support center or our new capsule collection initiative (small displays of curated books connected to curricular and co-curricular activities on campus). Other examples of programming driving space might be more inclusive tutoring spaces…or a reimagined welcome desk…or flexible space to support our peer-consulting program…or gathering spaces designed to support a wider range of outreach events…or spaces dedicated to showcasing student scholarship or digital resources in more engaging ways. For us, we know that quiet space is a core service of the library that students greatly value, and so a larger quiet reading room is definitely in the cards for our library of the future, as is improved back-of-house spaces for processing of library materials. These are just a few of the examples taken from the work that has been done to date from our own project. I look forward to sharing a more detailed summary of the feasibility study — and the exciting ideas proposed based on our programming needs– in the months to come.
Library of the Future
The Measure of an Organization
During a recent webinar on designing for new services in libraries, one of the participants shared that the measure of an organization is how well its purpose survives a crisis. For many organizations across the globe–including libraries–the pandemic has tested the very purpose of why we are here. Just as neighborhood restaurants and specialty shops have developed innovative models to meet the challenges of the pandemic, demonstrating why (or why not) their goods and services are needed within their communities, many library organizations are showing that the purpose of the library has never been more crucial. As we consider what the “library of the future” looks like at Davidson, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the strength and resilience of our own library organization and how well our purpose has weathered the pandemic crisis. Here’s what our library’s current statement of purpose looks like on paper:
We advance the College’s purpose in developing disciplined and creative minds by providing expertise, space, resources, and services for research, access to, and creation of information. We partner to provide convenient access to services from across the college—including tutoring, pedagogical support, and technology. We foster a welcoming and inclusive learning environment through our collections, outreach, and collaborations, and establish sustainable initiatives and develop anti-racist practices to support dialogue across differences and advance intercultural competence.
In January 2021, during the height of the pandemic, our library team was thrilled to receive the ACRL Excellence in Libraries Award. The write-up from ACRL summarized that our library “impressed the award committee with its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its work in advancing social justice.” Despite this amazing recognition of our organizational purpose surviving a world-wide crisis, we need to constantly reevaluate and ask: What do we keep doing (or do more often)? What do we start doing? What do we stop doing? When it comes to reevaluating our purpose, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership, community engagement, and teaching & learning partnerships as related to the future of the library:
Leading During Good Times & Bad:
Author and speaker, John Maxwell, shares that “leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” Never has this been more real than during the emergency remote situation that we found ourselves in March 2020. As faculty rushed to adapt their in-person courses for remote formats and students adjusted to the challenges of the pandemic, the library’s teaching and learning experts worked to support the community at a scale that was previously unimaginable. In addition to partnering with faculty to prepare the community for a future of online learning, our team members took the lead in transforming core services to meet the needs of students and faculty. We expanded our service model to offer chat, text, and Zoom drop-in and virtual appointments; we redesigned our instruction model to provide engaging and inclusive online learning experiences; created a digitization center to meet the needs of the remote community; moved to an entirely electronic reserves model; transitioned to a self-service check-out model; expanded access to our online resources; created new opportunities for community building; and reimagined how we provide print materials to our community via contactless pick-up. But all of this just didn’t happen…it took an entire team of leaders working together. What do we keep doing/do more often: Every member of the organization (no matter their title) influences one another to be okay with uncertainty, to broaden our perspectives, to problem-solve, to stay positive and remember our purpose. What do we start doing: Continuously assess every element of our service model (yes, even the book drop). What do we stop doing: Holding on to outdated models of service that no longer make sense.
Engaging Our Community:
We’ve all heard the library referred to as the “heart” of the community–but that sentiment doesn’t happen though place alone. The “heart” is nothing but a stack of bricks [or a non-intuitive website!] without people engaging as a community. Even before the pandemic hit, we collaborated closely with our colleagues from the college’s Center for Teaching & Learning and other campus partners to offer programming relevant to the needs of our students and faculty. During the pandemic, we worked with our students and faculty to better understand challenges and successes in the online classroom. What do we keep doing/do more often: The realities moving forward beyond the pandemic call for us to keep engaging with our community to understand their needs in and out of the classroom–and closely align our programming and resources with curricular priorities and campus initiatives. What do we stop doing: Guessing what the community needs and wants.
Partnering for Teaching & Learning: In these unprecedented times, the library’s role in student learning and faculty teaching has never felt more tangible or imperative. The pandemic provided us opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of faculty research needs and teaching practices; these experiences continue to provide us an expanded view of our own abilities and roles as library professionals. What do we keep doing/do more often: Partner with faculty and students to share knowledge and skills; continue to expand and share our own expertise; What do we stop doing: Underestimating the expertise we bring to the table as library professionals.
There’s more to come on this topic as we continue to expand our vision for the library of the future. Stay tuned!
Library of the Future Update: Meet MSR Design
Last week, I wrote about the concept of an architectural feasibility study and updated you on the “library of the future” project. I also introduced MSR Design, the award-winning Minneapolis based firm that was selected to lead the feasibility study for our project. Many in the Davidson College community have already met the MSR team through focus group work that has taken place over the last several weeks, but I thought it’d be helpful to provide a little more detail here for those who are interested.
Established in 1981, the firm has received 210 national and regional honors and awards for its design work, including 30 awards for library projects and 30 awards for the design of higher education facilities. The selection committee was impressed by the firm’s strong portfolio of projects, including over 253 library projects and 75 higher education projects including Haverford’s Visual, Culture, Arts, and Media (VCAM) Building and Carleton College’s Weitz Center for Creativity. One of the things that we noted during our interview with the team is that they really don’t have “one look” (except all of their spaces are beautiful!)– each project speaks to the needs of the community it has been designed to support, as demonstrated in this image below:
In addition to creating “transformative and human-centric, award-winning architecture and interior design” MSR Design is also the first Minnesota architecture firm to attain an International Living Future Institute “Just 2.0” label. This label provides a platform for socially just and equitable organizations to share their operations, such as transparency around employee well-being, pay equity, and financial and community investments. Most recently, the 62% women-owned firm was certified by the Women’s Business Development Center-Midwest (WBDC-Midwest), a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE).
MSR Design has created spaces in 34 states (+DC!), designing dozens of high-performing projects that put sustainability at the forefront. In addition to achieving Living Building Challenge Petal certification for their own studio space (also AWARD WINNING), they have designed over 22 LEED certified project (including two LEED Platinum certified projects).
The firm has also received an AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten Award for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s new Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center. They’ve also developed guidelines around transparency, sustainability, and health—including a sustainability metrics template and materials action packet, both which can be downloaded from the firm’s Generative Impacts web page.
Meet the MSR Design Project Team (Library of the Future Feasibility Study)
Davidson College colleagues might recognize these friendly faces from the focus group work that has been happening across campus (and via Zoom) over the last several months. They are such a fantastic team to work with and I couldn’t be happier with the selection committee’s decision to bring them on board for the feasibility study project.
In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be working closely with the design team to complete the library of the future feasibility study. Stay tuned for updates as we visualize a brighter future for the Davidson College Library!
Library of the Future: Feasibility Study Update
For more than a year, the Library of the Future Task Force worked closely with the Davidson College community to understand the current practices and needs of our users. This extensive work resulted in an 88-page report outlining a new vision for the future of the Davidson College Library. In January 2020, the Library of the Future Task Force presented this vision for the future library to the campus community (see this post for a recap). We then organized a committee to identify an architectural firm to lead a feasibility study for the project. For those of you unfamiliar with building projects: a feasibility study is an exercise to understand and refine the programmatic needs of a project, culminating in conceptual design work that describes needs, relationships, and space requirements. These deliverables are critical to understanding what is possible within the existing building structure, how much a project will cost, and to generate institutional and funding support. The task force put forth a strong vision for the future of the library: the feasibility study helps us to understand what this vision might actually look like within the space (and share this visualization with stakeholders and generate support!).
Picking an architectural firm sounds easy enough, right? The committee quickly discovered that choosing an architectural firm is no easy task. There are many firms out there that work within higher education, and our goal was to select a firm that not only had experience around the unique needs of libraries (along with an inspiring portfolio, of course) but also shared Davidson’s values. I set to work by reaching out for advice from library directors who had led recent building projects and then researching relevant library projects and firms. This work helped us to develop an initial list of over twenty firms, which we narrowed down to our “top 10” through further research. We then invited these firms to interview with us so that we could learn more about their abilities, vision, and values.
We didn’t want these interviews to simply be a showcase of past projects or to be Davidson-specific. In the invitation letter sent to each firm, we listed a few things we hoped to hear about during the 60-minute interview:
1. Background of the firm:
- Please introduce us personally to the key architectural personnel who will be on our project.
- As efficiently as possible, please convey your firm’s experience with the design of library facilities on other College and University Campuses.
- Please address how your firm supports diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- In the presentation of that experience, please identify those projects with LEED certification.
2. Insight into your design process, abilities, and vision by use of an example:
- Please select one of your library designs and be prepared to explain it in detail. In such, please convey the existing conditions you initially found, the project goals as they were communicated to you, the parameters that you were given as initial assumptions, the process by which you shaped and crafted a designed product, your approach to the project in relationship to collaboration and consensus, the design, the pros and cons of the facility on opening day, and anything else you see as fundamental to the product.
- Please discuss how you combined aesthetics and functionality in realizing the campus’s vision and building program.
- Please talk about ways that you incorporated inclusive or universal design into your product.
- Then, predict for us how libraries will be utilized, and specifically how that same example above will accommodate such, 25 years into the future.
In addition, we asked each firm to share specifics about strategy for the project, including their range of fees for the feasibility study and a forecast of design fees if the project moves to the next phase (fingers crossed). The interview process really gave us amazing insight into how each firm operated and allowed the committee members to identify their top three candidates through a rating process. The committee further deliberated, spoke with references, and eventually selected our top candidate.
This is all to say, that I’m excited to share with you that we selected MSR Design to lead the feasibility study for our library of the future. The committee selected MSR Design because of their impressive work with libraries and focus on sustainability, equity, and designing for generative impacts. In a future post, I’ll spend more time introducing you to the firm and our progress to date!
The Future’s So Bright
Now that I’ve got the website up and running, I’d like to use this space for periodic updates around our library of the future project. Recognizing that not everyone who reads this is familiar with the work, allow me to give a little background on the project and where the Library of the Future Task Force landed in terms of our vision for the future. I’ll be posting more about our feasibility study (going on now!) in the coming days. But first, let me tell you about the exciting ideas put forth by the task force:
The Library of the Future Task Force began its work in spring 2019. The task force, composed of nineteen faculty, staff, and students, sought first to understand the current research, teaching, and learning practices of library users and then to articulate our vision based on these functional needs. Our intent was not to envision what the library of the future looks like, but rather to uncover what our patrons desire to do or become as members of our academic community, along with how they want to feel in the library as a place. How can the experiences we provide in the library—through our spaces, services, expertise, and resources—support library users’ scholarly, professional, and personal aspirations? How can we in the library support students in developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service?
The task force report was released to the Davidson College community in February 2020, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the college into an emergency remote situation. As faculty worked to quickly transition their in-person courses to online and students also adjusted to the challenges of the pandemic, the library’s teaching and learning experts worked to support the community at a scale that was previously unimaginable. As the pandemic continued, and the college announced plans to provide multiple course delivery options for Fall 2020 the library’s team of instructional designers, research librarians, and peer consultants provided ongoing professional programming, course redesign, and individualized support across disciplines. From leading course design workshops, to ensuring electronic access to the hundreds of academic resources needed for remote learning, supporting research and digital project design and creation, and creating inclusive spaces within the library for students to safely gather, study, and learn— the library’s role in student learning and faculty teaching has never felt more tangible or imperative. In October 2020, the task force released a revised summary of recommendations (see this video summary) to serve as a road map for future planning. This summary includes the following programmatic themes:
The library of the future will be the center of intellectual life at Davidson College: A truly interdisciplinary organization, the future library will actively engage students, faculty, emeriti, and staff to collaborate, explore, experiment, and grow as researchers, creators, scholars, and informed citizens. The library of the future will be the intellectual hub of the college—a collaborative, student-centered destination offering a network of specialized information resources, peer-to-peer tutoring services, foundational and emerging technologies, and the professional expertise needed for success across all disciplines. Physical spaces to support the vital (yet often unseen) services provided by the library’s staff will remain an important component of the future library. The creation of a state-of-the-art Research & Design Studio to support digital scholarship and online teaching and learning initiatives should be central to the design and programming of the reimagined space, and the expanded role of the library as a center for digital teaching and learning.
The library of the future will exemplify intellectual spaciousness: Through our conversations, we discovered the need for inclusive spaces, services, and programming that fosters collegiality, community, and the exploration and exchange of ideas at Davidson. Exhibition spaces, gathering spaces, and creative programming (such as public lectures, book talks, art shows, and literary readings) that bring community members together in dialogue across differences and encourage intellectual spaciousness will be important features of the reimagined library. The library’s diverse resources, curated to align with curricular initiatives and campus conversations, will be an important part of this work. In addition to providing shared, reservable spaces (such as an “idea salon”/cafe/ multi-use lounge area) for faculty, student, and staff gatherings, the future library will provide inclusive spaces and programming that actively integrates our faculty emeriti into the fabric of the academic community. As we support students in their preparation for lives of leadership and service, we believe that the library can serve to connect students to the greater community and beyond.
The library of the future will support all learners: The future library will facilitate cross-functional collaborations and be designed to encourage deeper partnerships between academic support services, allowing students to seamlessly consult with experts and find information and technology resources needed to help them achieve their learning goals. In addition to providing a more welcoming and connected service point, library patrons told us that they require a variety of comfortable spaces to support their research and learning needs, including quiet, solitary areas designed for study and reflection, reconfigurable spaces for small-group collaborative work, structured teaching spaces, expanded media design and production areas, and flexible open spaces to gather as a community. Library users also told us that they require better food options to provide nourishment during study sessions, especially late at night. Students were very vocal about the need for quiet, low-tech spaces, such as a silent reading room, to support deep work, contemplation, and overall wellness. This profound need for designated quiet spaces cannot be overstated, and is an essential component of all future space design recommendations.
The library of the future will provide access to well-curated collections: We also learned that many library users care deeply about the library’s collections. Physical books are highly valued by the majority of our patrons but the general collection is difficult to navigate due to the library’s 10-year history of using two classification systems. One of our top priorities, informed by focus group feedback and best practices in librarianship, is that the library will transition fully to a single and all-encompassing classification system. Library users shared that they find the general collection unfocused, cluttered, and disconnected from their academic work. A high quality collection should be well-curated. We heard a range of ideas to align the collection more closely with the curriculum and other campus programming, such as course-specific exhibits of library materials and faculty-student curation projects. To support these structural and programmatic changes around library collections, library policies will demonstrate a commitment to the management, curation, and preservation of information in traditional as well as emergent forms. In addition to innovations in the ways in which we highlight intersections between the print collection and the needs and interests of the college community, the library of the future will provide convenient access to print materials while facilitating the full range of resources that library users seek out within the physical library. Users suggested a range of potential solutions that would provide access to a well-curated, browsable collection while allowing for more of the library’s physical space to be used for purposes other than housing print materials, such as the use of compact shelving, off-site storage for lesser used materials, and participation in shared resource collaboratives (e.g. HathiTrust: A federation of academic libraries that preserves and digitizes print materials and maintains a digital archive with access available to all for works in the public domain, and to member libraries for copyright restricted material, which Davidson College is now a member).
The library of the future will prioritize and showcase our distinctive collections: On the specific topic of Archives & Special Collections (ASC), we heard overwhelmingly from our faculty and students that engaging with rare books, artifacts, and other unique materials is critical to the liberal arts experience, but current space constraints, inadequate storage, lack of security, and poor environmental control make it difficult for ASC experts to keep up with teaching and learning demands. Recommendations from our faculty include a centrally housed Archives & Special Collections, with expanded classroom, reading room, and exhibit space, to make the activities and collections more accessible and welcoming. In collaboration with students and faculty, we will develop clearly defined curation and preservation strategies that will better reflect the full range of cultural and social diversity and support historically marginalized communities. Librarians and archivists will work closely with faculty to support an understanding of the histories and development of print culture and showcase Davidson’s distinctive collections which reflect both institutional and disciplinary priorities and scholarship.
The library of the future will engage crucially with the past to understand our present and inform our future: The College’s Commission on Race and Slavery report, released August 2020, asks the community to search for truth in “building a comprehensive understanding of the college’s own history, which is intertwined with the institution and legacies of slavery and enslaved person.” Library professionals have an important role in this search for truth. This role includes but it not limited to the development of research projects investigating and acknowledging the college’s history with slavery and race, the creation of educational exhibitions and websites, and the curation of public programs, development of collections, or work with community partners. As we consider the future of the library, the Library of the Future Task Force proposes a designated space within the library that can serve as a forum for research and teaching on the history of race and slavery at Davidson. This interdisciplinary space will gather and provide access to relevant archival and contemporary resources, local historical materials and genealogical references, and faculty and student scholarship related to race and slavery. Of equal importance, this space will provide a venue for expertise from public historians and archivists, community programming, and physical and digital exhibitions.
The library of the future will inspire: From our engagement sessions–we learned that library patrons most want to feel inspired by the library’s spaces, services, and resources. Over and over again, we heard that library patrons desire a beautiful, inclusive, accessible, and sustainable library that inspires learners across all disciplines. And although “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder in regards to furnishings and design, the community members we spoke with agreed that the library should be filled with art, sunlight, greenery, and it should reflect the natural surroundings of our region. We learned that library patrons desire inspirational outdoor spaces (many patrons shared ideas to reimagine the library’s rooftop space) for study and social events. Sustainability practices and processes were often mentioned as an inspirational component to the success of our future library, and important to the recruitment of students who share Davidson’s institutional values.
As 21st century research, teaching, and learning practices continue to evolve, so must the spaces, services, and resources required to support our students, faculty, and staff. The design of the future library—community spaces, teaching spaces, physical and digital exhibit spaces, research and reading spaces, spaces for preservation of historical materials, and communal spaces—will be guided by our commitment to the building of a more inclusive, just, safe, and humane future.
In my next post, I’ll share more on the feasibility study and introduce you to the design firm selected for this important phase of the project. Stay tuned!