Designing Public Libraries in the 21st century: Lessons for the UK
The Churchill Travelling Fellowships provide a unique opportunity for UK citizens, from all backgrounds and every corner of the UK, to acquire innovative ideas abroad. In the process they gain fresh perspectives on their own field of interest and return with enhanced expertise, able to be more effective at work and in their contribution to the community. The knowledge exchange is two-way with long-lasting connections made between Fellows and their hosts, creating valuable overseas networks.
The aim of my project is to gather knowledge about the vision for public libraries in North America and Europe in light of the impact of new technology that challenges the need for physical books yet highlights the continued need for neutral community spaces. I will establish how this vision is being realised by architects and interior designers in the construction of new library buildings, extensions, and refurbishment projects, and critically evaluate the success of their designs by examining how buildings are actually being used in practice.
My research will involve speaking with members of the library community based in leading public libraries as well as university libraries that are setting the standards for others in terms of addressing the impact of new technology, changing learning and educational practices, and increasing community engagement. I seek to speak with library workers across departments about their vision for their library, how this vision is interpreted in the arrangement of their facilities, spaces, services, and programme of activities, and how architects and interior designers can more effectively support their visions. I seek to engage with patrons who are using the library building(s) to understand, from their perspective, what aspects of these buildings work and do not work in terms of comfort, function, and aesthetics.
My research will be disseminated amongst members of the library community with whom I have engaged, architects and interior designers, as well as other stakeholders – such as policy-makers, think-tanks, and researchers. The aim of my project is to connect individuals who share an interest in the role of design and architecture in the transformation of libraries. On completing my research, I will write a report on my findings which I will make available on my website, organize a workshop for stakeholders to meet and share ideas, and also present my research at relevant industry and academic conferences.
I will conduct this research independently of the organization for which I work – although I will be using my organization as a means of implementing and disseminating my findings. I will carry out my project in my own time – during a vacation (two weeks) and an unpaid sabbatical (four weeks). Similarly, I will be writing up my findings in my free time.