Education Research: How Do We Improve Libraries?
David Broz in Education Research, Education Research, Education and Culture

Designing college campuses that keep students happy and lead to better academic performance requires us to have a clear understanding of how students spend their time when they are on campus. It was this need that pushed Gensler to initiate a research project with the goal of mapping out the activities that constitute a typical student day. (Read/download a PDF of the final research report, "Changing Course: Connecting Campus Design to a New Kind of Student," here.) What we learned not only surprised us, but made it clear that it's time to rethink the design of college campuses and the buildings on them.

For starters, 44 percent of the students we surveyed said that they spend the majority of their learning non-classroom time on-campus studying alone. This was something of a surprise, since the common perception of today’s student is one in which collaboration reigns and group activity dominates. For this reason, campus designers have made concerted efforts over the past decade to install collaboration zones, social spaces, and entertainment options throughout academic buildings.

Now we are learning that what students really want when they're on campus is the ability to find places where they can put their heads down and hit the books. It may sound counterintuitive, but we’re finding it to be the truth. Forty-three percent of students told us that the place they prefer to study is the campus library, but only 22 percent reported that study conditions at their schools' libraries adequately supported private study.

This told us that we are faced with something of a conundrum: Students want to study at the library, but because conditions are far from ideal they are more likely to head elsewhere or simply not find the space they need.

Students' desire to study in libraries coupled with the inadequacy of current library design has led Gensler to initiate a research project just on libraries. The goal of this research is to understand the current paradigm for library design and to explore how technology and smarter design can help libraries better meet the needs of the individuals and groups they serve.

There are some interesting projects currently under way or recently completed on college campuses across the country—including the University of Chicago, North Carolina State University, and Columbia College Chicago—and each can teach us something about how technology can help solve current problems. For example, these schools have invested in an automatic book-retrieval system that stores physical copies of books in more compact spaces. In turn, this creates extra space within the library walls, giving designers the opportunity to include more dynamic learning labs, study rooms, and a variety of seating options. This is just one way library design can be improved, but further research into exactly why current libraries are not adequately serving students is needed if we are to develop a strategy for revamping the current paradigm for library design.

Gensler is currently orchestrating roundtable discussions with academic librarians in many of our offices across the globe. We believe these forums will uncover what campus leaders are observing and where they envision the library going. Among the questions we plan to address:

If you know of a librarian who would like to be invited to one of these sessions, please reach out to me; I’d be glad to put you in touch with one of our local leaders.

David Broz is very involved in his community, sitting on nearly a dozen not-for-profit boards and committees, ranging from "Placemaking in the Loop" to "Multicultural Scholars Program at the University of Kansas." A common thread runs through his work and his volunteer efforts: the desire to create great spaces to live, work, and play that respond to today's social and economic realities. Contact him at
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