July 8, 2019

Library Design: The Arrival Experience

Designing Experiences

by Abigail Smith Hanby

Think about how a student enters your library. What is the first thing they encounter? Do they have a specific destination in mind or did they arrive there by chance?

Envisioning the entrance through a student’s eyes is a crucial consideration when rethinking your library design and plan.

In the past, the entry experience was to encounter a service design strategy that greeted students with a hefty service desk, where library staff were fixed as static gatekeepers, and library services were hidden deep in the library behind closed doors. In contrast, we are seeing a trend in successful libraries whereby all visitors are warmly invited in and welcomed, they are offered a variety of spaces and services to ensure that all their user needs are being met, and they are oriented to spaces, collections, and staff with visible signage.

Below are a few key principles brightspot has developed for library planning as it relates to improving the student experience.

Designing Your Library Starts by Fostering an Inviting Student Experience

Students either know what they are seeking from the library, therefore they have a destination in mind, or they come in knowing the library is a place they should be but aren’t completely sure how to engage it. One of our key principles for library planning is to create the most welcome environment for all users, both those who intended on being there and those who happen to drop in.

At Temple University’s new library designed by Snøhetta, an oculus opens up views to each corner of the building, serving as a wayfinding anchor and placing the user at the center of the library’s activity. A single material carries from the exterior plaza through a glass wall into the building connecting the inside with the outside through the groundplane. This signifies to visitors that the library is connected with the outside, therefore gesturing to visitors that they are welcome to walk in. Meeting visitors inside is an open space revealing a diverse mix of library partner services and providing site-lines to all floors. This immerses visitors in services and reveals the extents of library spaces within the library all from a single point.

Temple University Library Main Entrance (Credit: Snøhetta)

Build Empathy to Connect with Students

Personal interactions make for better experiences. Users who consult with library staff during their visit are the most satisfied and have the highest breadth of engagement. Data shows that users who consult with library staff use up to four other resources during a visit.

Another key principle for library planning is to recognize that no two students are alike. Enable your staff to build empathy for students by requiring them to ask how a student’s day is going, how they can be of service, and if there is anything else that the library can help them with. For example, they could offer help with writing, finance, or registration questions. Research shows that students who come from backgrounds which historically have been underserved tend to be less informed on how to engage a library. Don’t require your students to decode your space and offerings, be present at the door to welcome and provide orientation to everyone who walks in.

Past and Future Library Visitor Experience

Make Everything Visible and Provide Direction

Another principle for library planning is to make services and spaces visible, and therefore known to all. Orient patrons to spaces, collections, and staff, so they are informed of what is offered at the library. Couple signage with “How to” notation, as used by NCSU at Hunt Library, hung above the main service point is a super wall graphic with the directive “Ask Us.” The “Ask Us” directive informs visitors how to engage the space, simply by asking.

Utilize color and material to designate variation in the atmospheric tone of various spaces. This will inform users that there is a difference and so that they expect themselves to also change. This strategy can be used to differentiate between spaces that are expected to remain ‘quiet’ to spaces that are expected to maintain a degree of ‘noisiness.’

NC State University Hunt Library Service Point (Credit: Snøhetta)

When thinking about the experience your library creates for students, small changes can have a big impact. Walk in your students’ shoes and think through how they encounter the library as a building on campus, a set of services, and a place for learning. Identify what students are seeing, thinking, and doing as they approach, pull open the door, and step into the place that represents access to information.

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