About GenslerOnCities

What makes cities tick? GenslerOnCities explores the planning, design, and the potential futures of urban landscapes.

Search GenslerOn
Cities Topics
Connect with Us
« What Is Neon City? | Main | Town Square: San Diego »

Confronting the Library Paradox

Image © Gensler

The future of the library is a topic that has commanded significant attention in recent years, often intertwined within a larger discussion about need for books and print publications in an increasingly digital age. But interestingly, I’ve noticed in many cases these discussions quickly turn away from the pragmatic question of books and resources to something more ephemeral, and often more emotional. On campuses, libraries and their collections hold a special position as the symbolic heart of academia and as such represent, in the hearts and minds of their users, much more than containers for information. Academic libraries are currently embroiled in a paradox as they struggle to update their use, programming and image for a digital age. With instant access to online information, today’s college students often don’t need as many printed resources as we once did. Yet, libraries remain vital to college campuses, not only for their physical spaces and resources, but as centers of history, culture and, most recently, innovation.

While working on broader research about how students feel about their college campuses today, I learned that students are drawn to libraries, and that they continue to seek them out as desirable study spaces. This led to a focus on the more specific question of the library. What makes a successful academic library, and how must the library change to stay relevant? What do students want to do there, and how can Universities allocate space accordingly? Do students and administrators even agree on what spaces and services the library should provide? Ultimately, the question I’m seeking to answer is: What is the future of the academic library, how will it evolve to meet the needs of the next generation?

To tackle that question head on, Gensler’s Education & Culture practice conducted a series of investigations to understand the current and future state of the library from a number of perspectives. We convened roundtables across the country to gather the perspective of library administrators, and conducted a follow-up survey to gather more specific data about their vision of the future of their roles and the future of the library in general. We then selected libraries across the country to perform observational analyses to uncover usage patterns to match a vision of the future with a detailed understanding of how students are really using libraries today. Up next, we’re conducting a nationwide survey of college students to add their opinions to the mix.

For more information, take a look at a video I recorded discussing our preliminary findings and a proposed SxSW Edu panel session entitled “Confronting the Library Paradox: Collections and Connections” In addition to me, the panel will include University Librarians from campuses across the country, including NYU, Stanford and the University of Iowa. If you’re interested, vote for us to make it through to the final conference!

Mark Thaler is one of Gensler’s Education Practice Area leaders in the New York office, develops education projects at all scales, from classroom to campus. Mark has a passion for creating learning spaces that inspire, and collaborates with his clients to create these environments. Interested in Gensler’s education research? Send Mark a note at mark_thaler@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (1)

I see this panel was presented on March 5 at SXSW - is there any way the presentation will be made available online?
Many thanks,
04.30.2014 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.