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Recently, I watched a webinar about current building and design trends in public libraries. It presented the major trends as: user-centric spaces, flexible and adaptable spaces, collaborations inside and out, and a focus on experiential learning. Within those categories we were presented with the vision of public libraries that are highly engaging, interactive for all ages (not just children), and filled with collections that are no longer physically the core architectural feature of the space(s).
It advised us that libraries must “speak” on many levels. They must speak architecturally to the rest of their city/town. They must speak to the community in terms of aspirations. They must speak, literally through staff, to their users. And they must speak to collaborators and partners. Yikes, it’s getting noisey!
Over the coming months, probably years, Providence Public Library will attempt to redesign some of its spaces to better provide those inspirational and comfortable spaces. With the highly successful renovation of our historic spaces as event venues, we were inspired to turn our attention to some of our public service areas.
Last March, we were able to accomplish a renovation of our first floor Reference desk area. It’s not totally complete even now, but is substantially so. We did that through a commitment by administration to finding funding for the project, as well as saving funds by purchasing used furniture that still accomplished what we needed and obtaining grant funding for the carpeting. Shortly, we will be completing that renovation with the creation of an exhibit/display area. In the spring, we hope to redesign our entry level circulation area if the grant proposals out there come through! For that’s the crux of the problem for all public libraries -- trying to keep up with user expectations with our limited resources, while also being sure that any trend is valuable and worthwhile to our users. The goal should never be to follow any trend solely to be trendy, but rather to identify and adapt those trends that will ultimately become core services.
Providence Public Library is a venerable institution. It has a long and valued history. And a good part of that history is because we have always been the place to go for that item you couldn’t find anywhere else; for that librarian with years of experience and expertise; for that exhibit that’s nowhere else; and for those book stacks filled to the brim and just ripe for both specific topics and serendipitous browsing. We don’t intend to lose that. But the future isn’t just out there waiting for us, it’s rushing at us at seemingly lightning speed. What makes PPL unique is that we have never let our august venerability keep us from innovation. So it has always been. And so it will continue to be.