Calgary is going to get a new central library in 2018. CEO, Bill Ptacek, has been thinking about the new library in terms of what he feels is lacking in the current library.
Many of his suggestions for the new library come from thinking about retail. In retail, ‘merchandise’ is displayed to attract customers into the building. So, for example, his suggestion would be to put the ‘hold’ books at the back of the building, where the bread and eggs would sit in a shop, so that customers have to walk through it in order to get to them. The idea, of course, is that a patron entering the library to pick up a ‘hold’ might be tempted to browse all the other books on the shelves on the way.
Nevertheless, a patron’s path to the ‘hold’ should not be complicated. In Bill’s opinion, a library should be constructed in such a way that patrons know their options as soon as they come in the entrance, and they can navigate their way through it with ease. This does not mean bombarding the patron with signs to the nearest exist. It means constructing the library so that as many of its services and settings are visible to the patron at all times. So, as soon as a patron comes in the entrance, they can see all their options. As Bill explains:
‘We really are a lot of things we would use in retail need to be incorporated into the library. When someone comes into the library there is a path they take….There is what we call a patron path. That is the way that patrons orientate themselves. Don’t block it… don’t put a load of information in the first few metres of the vestibule because they won’t read it’.
As he continued, if patrons know how to navigate the building themselves, then they do not need to ask a librarian for help, and this ultimately means they have more responsibility for their own journey through the building. It’s about designing a library that patrons find they can intuitively navigate.
So the new central library is designed to be as open as possible. Ellen Humphrey, Deputy CEO, reinforces what Bill has said:
‘A patron might not know what is on the fourth floor, but they can see it. It’s about ease of navigation. But, it is also about … it’s about the patron being able to figure it out. So the patron feels like the ‘place was built for me’. So they feel like they belong here’.
So, way-finding is not about signage. The signage will be there to nudge them in the right direction. Ellen still has some of the way-finding budget left to put up some signs after opening day. ‘We are trying to be flexible’, Ellen continues. But, Bill ends with a final comment: ‘If we have to explain in great detail how the building works [with signs] then we have probably failed’.