So, we got new furniture in our Library about two months ago. The furniture we received were a couple of hand-me-downs from another branch in the library system and don’t really fit in with the rest of the “décor” in this branch. But anything is better than what we had because that furniture just had to go. They were over 30 years old, uncomfortable, and pretty gross. By contrast, this new furniture was clean, comfortable, and fairly clean. Our big dilemma was where to put the new furniture.
We knew we wanted to create some lounge spaces where people can relax and read something or use their laptops. So for those areas we needed adequate light and power outlets. And we knew that we wanted to create a space for waiting for computers that was comfortable for reading or relaxing while waiting. We thought those areas should be near the computers so people could easily see when one became available. However, one of our big questions was exactly where these areas should be, and we also weren’t sure if they would be used for the purposes we thought they would be used for. In either cases we recognized that we could be totally wrong about were furniture should go or how it might be used.
I knew that I could be wrong about where the furniture should go because of a Library Tour I took at a conference a few years ago. As I walked through the library, the head librarian was pointing out some of the great things that the library had. At some point, we came to a great space that was really well lit and had a fireplace and lots of big comfortable chairs. I thought this area was perfect! The chairs were in neat little rows with coffee tables at their sides and everyone could just “be” in the library. Well, the librarian started complaining right away that the coffee tables (because they were the perfect height) were being used as foot rests, and that all the furniture kept moving to a couple of very specific areas of the room. And he was complaining that staff had to come in here a couple of times a day and move all the furniture back!
The solution to this kind of problem in public spaces comes from an architect I read about a few years earlier. The architect (who I can’t remember) designed a building with a courtyard but didn’t make any designs for adding concrete walkways through the grass. Of course, everyone complained, but the architect succeeded in keeping the walkways out of the plan. After the building was occupied and used for a few weeks there were very distinct walkways across the grass in the courtyard. So, that’s where he put the concrete walkways! Basically, he let the people using the courtyard, design the courtyard in a way that worked for them. Not the other way around.
To take this back to my library and our furniture, I thought, what if we put the furniture out and if the patrons moved it, then…. it was moved! This way we can see where our patrons want THEIR furniture and where it suits THEIR needs. Honestly , if all the furniture works for the majority of the patrons on the left side of the building and upside down and stacked then I really should have no problem with that (of course OSHA might) because it is, after all, THEIR library.