Tag Archives: Library design

How Students Feel about Library Architecture and Design

An article in the September 2011 issue of College and Research Libraries details the findings of a fascinating study into the way students perceive library architecture (exteriors and interiors), specifically modern vs. traditional design. The most compelling conclusion was that students value highly having books around them in the library even if those books may go unused:

If asked, students may not state that they want visible stacks in the library; in fact, if asked whether they intend to use the books on the shelves, they may say they have no intention of using them. However, if the stacks are taken completely away, they may feel a keen detrimental effect. Therefore, it is important to examine the academic library from this affective perspective prior to planning new construction or making any drastic changes in the design and model of the traditional library, rather than relying on student input in the simplistic form of “Please let us know what you’d like to see in the new library.” While students may request a coffee shop, computer stations, and the latest technology, this cannot reflexively be considered to be a wish for those things to the exclusion of more traditional design and items. Traditional and modern elements can happily coexist, but careful planning and sensitivity to these subtle, but significant, desires are required. (p. 437)

In designing the survey instrument for the study, the authors wanted to discover to what extent students had feelings about libraries as spiritual, sanctified places. They discovered that students had even stronger feelings about the spirituality of libraries than was expected and that those feelings should be kept in mind during re-designs of older libraries and construction of new ones:

This empirical study affirmed our hypothesis that spaces deemed as “sacred” or “sanctified” produce affective benefits for people that extend beyond attitudes and into the realm of behavior (projected library use). Circulation statistics do not measure these benefits; students may not actually use the books on the shelves, but they “sanctify” the books—being around the books makes them feel more scholarly and connected to the institution’s educational mission. This type of response is borne out in the literature examining the affective responses to sacred spaces. Being in the presence of sanctified objects increases the worshipper’s spiritual experience even if the worshipper does not technically “use” the objects. Within this context, the overall contribution of “spiritual” library items to the greater sacred ambience should not be taken lightly. While students clearly value computers in libraries, paradoxically they do not like tech-heavy–looking spaces; students want new technologies presented in traditional academic surroundings.These findings have implications for new construction and remodels. (p. 436)

Jackson, Heather Lea, and Trudi Bellardo Hahn. “Serving Higher Education’s Highest Goals: Assessment of the Academic Library as Place.” College & Research Libraries 72.5 (2011): 428 -442. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.


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