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Who is in charge of the atmosphere?

I happened upon The Royal Oak, a quaint bar nestled beside a Starbucks and a movie theatre in the suburbs of Atlanta

The food was just ok, but the thing that struck me was this statement on their menu:

“A pub is a state of mind, and that alone sets it apart from any other drinking or eating establishment. It is a place where relaxation, stimulation, and conversation are the order of the day.  In their ‘local,’ as the English refer to them, a sense of being ‘at home’ is very much in evidence, and it is the publican’s job to ensure the maintenance of that atmosphere.”

This got me thinking about libraries. What is our state of mind? What is our atmosphere? Who is in charge of it? And perhaps the question for this blog: who designs it?

Is it the building manager’s job to create engaging experiences? What about the Head of Public Services? She might have good intentions but probably does not have the time to devote to such a large enterprise. So what about the librarians or staff? Again, there may be some interest, but “library as place” most likely ends up other duties as assigned.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot coming into a new workplace. I  walk throughout the building several times each day observing how patrons are using the space and how they have adapted to it. The library seems to have it’s own unwritten code of conduct. For example, there are many large tables on different floors. All of them are filled with students (finals week)—some of these are quiet zones, while in other areas people converse freely. Why is that? How was this ecosystem formed and how has it evolved over time? I have not noticed any library staff enforcing rules, so who is in charge?

I’ve started sketching layouts of the building with ideas for creating defined zones. Will simply rearranging the furniture have a positive (and noticeable) impact on study behavior? Will patrons accept what I design or simply do whatever the want?

 I don’t have any answers… just tons of questions, but think about the “atmosphere” of your library.  Who is in charge of it?What needs to be done?  And what can you do to change it?

Comments

Comment from Cheryl Bryan
Posted: June 12, 2009 at 11:42 am

I just lead a workshop for teh circulation services staff of one of our member automated systems in Southeastern Massachusetts on just this topic. Most of our libraries are too small to have a position titled Design Engineer as do Darien Public (CT) and Georgia Tech, but I think all libraries should designate someone whose responsibility it is to bring user patterns and conveniences to staff meetings for discussion.
On the volume level in academic libraries I recently visited the new satellite library for Brown University and they had decimal signs indicating quiet and noisy zones in the mostly open floorplan library.

Comment from jenjen
Posted: June 24, 2009 at 1:05 pm

From recent experience it’s easier to design zones into a space during renovation or new construction than to impose it on existing space. We’ve had pretty good adoption of the zones we tried to establish in our building’s expansion/renovation.

The issue becomes one of enforcement, or reinforcement. We don’t have security staff who walk through the building, so users have to “police” the areas themselves and we’ve found that students who want a very quiet space are not the ones who are eager to tell their colleagues to shut up, get off the phone, stop slurping soup etc. So we’ve posted in the quiet areas how to IM us at the service desk when there’s a noise or smelly-food problem and students do use it to ask us to have a staff person come up and resolve the situation.

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