Academic libraries must be flexible, Project Information Literacy says

In a time of profound change for academic libraries, there is no “one size fits all” way to design a library learning space, according to Project Information Literacy.

“The goal for librarians and architects alike must be creating flexible spaces that are both ‘user-defined’ for meeting students’ needs at a moment’s notice with moveable furnishings,” the research group says.

The finding is among several in a new report on academic libraries from Project Information Literacy, which was funded by a 2015 Strategic Research Grant when Alison Head was employed as a research scientist in the UW Information School.

The report identifies approaches, challenges and best practices related to planning and designing academic library learning spaces. Researchers conducted 49 interviews with academic librarians, architects, and library consultants who have been at the forefront of 22 academic library learning space projects in the United States and Canada between 2011 and 2016.

The interviews pointed to frequent challenges with translating design goals into tangible designs and managing communication with campus-side constituents from beginning to the end. The report provides four actionable conclusions as well as a list of "best practices" and "worst practices," based on interviewees' insights.

The researchers plan to build on the report’s findings by studying how the ever-changing student population meets its learning needs within academic libraries and other learning spaces, both physical and virtual, that they use in their lives.