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Rethinking the Library

Like every space in educational environments, the library now is being rethought and reorganized.  It’s becoming a place where students are engaged in the business of becoming learners, and unfortunately library space planning has often failed to keep up. 

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As a result, institutions are now rethinking how libraries function and what people need from them. “The classroom experience is moving out to other spaces so collaborative teaching and learning can happen, and the library is the paradigm,” says Tod Stevens, partner of SHW Group, an architecture and engineering firm specializing in educational environments.

“Libraries need to break out of the atmosphere of tradition, to escape gravity, as I call it. We need to rethink our whole attitude about the relationship between students and space, furniture, and information, and redefine what a library should be,” says lee Van Orsdel, dean of university libraries at Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Mich.

Innovative library administrators, designers, and educators are reshaping the 21st century library into something quite different from a traditional book warehouse. To better understand the trends, Steelcase WorkSpace futures last year initiated a major study of libraries at private and public colleges and universities across the U.S. What they discovered were major shifts in how the library is being used and a number of opportunities to better leverage space, new technologies, and pedagogies for a new generation of students. Explore the Research.

At GVSU, Steelcase prototyped this type of study space as part of planning the new library. Researchers observed how students used the two spaces:

  • one with group work tools (portable whiteboards, mobile tables and chairs, wall-mounted storage shelves, access to power, and defined team areas)
  • another with a media:scape® setting, where people can plug in laptops and simply press a puck to show information on two integrated flat screens , and similar group work tools. 
  • Watch the GVSU Case Study Video, and see how it emphasises a whole new attitude about the library and it’s relationship with students, staff, furniture and books.















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