Sunday, October 08, 2006

Transforming the physical experience of visiting the Olin Library

One way libraries will remain important in higher education in the 21st century is as places of study, interaction with others, and relaxation; rejuvenating physical spaces in an increasingly digital world. At Rollins we have to build on the work that previous librarians have created in the Olin Library. It is a beautiful building that offers some great opportunities. It should be a destination for students and faculty on campus.

A number of things about the second floor of the library have been floating around in my brain and they recently came together so I thought I should record them and see if they make any sense. Let me know what you think.

This list is organized as though you are entering the library through the main doors.

  • If you visit the main library of the Orange County Public Library in downtown Orlando, the first thing you notice as you approach the building is the soothing music wafting from above the entrance. With a gorgeous entrance way at the Olin Library we could do something similar.
  • Rollins is looking for spaces like the courtyard between Orlando Hall and Woolson House that can be designed as relaxing gathering spots on campus. The loggia that runs along the front of the Olin Library would be a perfect spot for benches. A lovely spot for taking a study break with friends and wireless accessible too.
  • Fire regulations mandate that both the entrance and exit doors be designated as exits as you leave the Olin Library. But both doors are solid wood. If someone leaves via the entrance there is the potential to inadvertently hit a person trying to enter at the same time. If we put glass panels in the doors this problem would be solved and more light would be brought into the main lobby of the library.
  • The lobby contains our main exhibit cases, but frankly they don’t really improve the feel of the place. We have some people on staff who enjoy creating exhibits but no one with special skills or training in creating professional grade exhibits and programming that link the library to events on campus.
  • Our Circulation services are located behind a rather imposing counter of wood and glass. The glass lets you see a lot of rather messy shelves and workspaces but not to interact with the staff. The wood paneling darkens the whole lobby, and users are funneled into one relatively small space for service.
  • As some of the staff in Circulation have noticed, users often come to this desk with computing questions rather that library circulation requests and, because staff are not trained to handle these issues, are sent downstairs to (or directed to phone) the IT Help Desk. The library’s Video/DVD collection could be moved elsewhere and the IT desk moved upstairs (conveniently nearer the labs), physically integrated with streamlined circulation services, and some cross-training provided so that users questions about any aspect of information – the technology or the information itself – can be answered from one location. If we want to get really ambitious we can integrate the reference desk (currently located far away from where users first encounter the library) into this space as well for truly “one stop shopping.”
  • This would free up a rather nice space on the ground floor, in what is now known by some users as “the tombs,” for a pleasant group study/conference room.
  • The current Bookmark café offers coffee from 7-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Pretty inadequate hours if you ask me. I am working to increase those hours. But I also think that the space can be made more like a coffee shop and less like a library. Warmer colors on the walls, more funky furnishings with a few sofas and low tables, moving the McNaughton books into the café instead of having them block the café from the entrance, adding food to the menu, and scheduling some events in that space and the Bib Lab next door (poetry readings, music, etc.) It is already wireless accessible, so it can be a lovely little cyber café.
  • The computing lab next to it is pretty forbidding as well. The IT master plan calls for upgrading technology teaching spaces around campus. Perhaps that space could be next.

Physical spaces are only one piece of the picture. We need to get our services right and our customer service needs to exceed our users expectations every time. But physical space matters. I think what I am suggesting here could transform our users’ experience of visiting the library and, combined with the right services, collections, and customer and educational service from our librarians and staff, could make the Olin Library a destination on campus – somewhere people immediately think of when they think about spending time on campus.

What do you think?

9 comments:

Darla said...

I like all of these ideas, especially having furniture on the loggia, moving the I.T. Help Desk (I think its current location is inconvenient for students), and making the Bookmark into more of a cyber café.
I also think it would be nice to make our first floor more inviting. Our study rooms, for instance, seem a bit stark to me. And the furniture groupings and lighting downstairs could probably be improved, too.
We have a beautiful building, and I'd love to see more people really enjoying it.

Anonymous said...

I think WOW! Great ideas and do-able ideas! I'd like to add on, let's bring the current periodicals up into that cafe area as well and make them more visible and accessible..... or into the reference space, especially if we are moving the reference librarians over towards circ.
Yvonne

Carolyn said...

Jonathan,
I agree with much of what you say about our second floor space. We definitely need to do something about our exhibit space - get rid of it or assign a librarian the job of keeping track of campus events and being in charge of exhibits related to campus events (I'm not necessarily volunteering, just a thought!). I'm nervous about your idea of integrating Circ, IT Help Desk, and Reference into one desk. How will people know which person to talk to? How much cross-training would there be? I'm not sure I want to be part of the IT Help Desk, although it might help the IT staff learn the importance of computers and the Internet to our work and it would be useful for librarians to know more about Circulation. The reference desk used to be next to the lobby and we moved it to be closer to our collections, both print and electronic. I realize our customers don't know or care about the differences between the services offered by the IT staff, the Circ staff, and the librarians, but I'm not sure putting us all together is the solution.

Carolyn

Dorothy said...

Yup, there is a lot of food for thought here. One Stop Shopping. Sounds great, but is it really possible? And do students really have that expectation of us? No one goes to a dermatologist hoping to get their blood pressure under control. The Medical profession has embraced one stop shopping by putting a number of specialists under one roof, or in one shopping center. Patients just go down the hall to visit the appropriate specialist, and all are satisfied with the experience. I think we offer something similar at the Olin Library. The student may need to be directed to the right office, but it is only a few steps away. Co-mingling a circ/ref/it desk sounds good in theory, but I'm skeptical of the reality. To borrow another analogy from a different industry: when I worked in the restaurant business, patrons were often annoyed when they had to wait for a table if they saw one that was open. What they didn't know was that there was no waitress assigned to that area, or the table was already reserved, etc. I could foresee a co-mingled desk having similar trouble. Three people are lined up waiting for I.T. help, but the reference librarian is available....and not helping customers. It makes the entire operation look bad.

I do think having the IT Help Desk moved to the Video area is certainly worthy of consideration, especially if we could get the current 1st floor office in exchange for it. We sometimes have microfilm patrons complain that the current location is too light to read, so the dark cave on the 1st floor would certainly be an improvement on that front!

Dorothy

Anonymous said...

These are very ambitious, but doable plans. Making our space more inviting and usable is definitely a plus. I think it is important to take it one step at a time especially when considering bringing groups of people from different areas together. I like the idea of relocating the McNaughton Collection to the cafe area. The first floor should also be the focus of improvements beyond the addition of meeting rooms and study room improvements. We have all the space at the bottom of the stairs that could be developed into a great, comfortable area as well.
Mary

Anonymous said...

Love the new ideas. The library definitely has potential to be more welcoming.

Naomi said...

At the conference in Dallas last week, we visited the Dallas Public Library. This library is in a major renovation program. The library entrance is awesome with large pillars of huge artistic lamps (about 5)that sit on top of a hexagon-pentagon-coffin 4-5 sides entrance point for information, circulation, etc area. Two-three service areas are located here. This is possible here. It is a very impressive entrance. The outside area is open for entertainment, art displays and other open space activities. There are some great examples out there in the library world to explore as we look at redesigning our library. This is exciting!

Dorothy said...

Wow.... there is a lot here to think about. I agree that the Coffee set up is failing miserably as long as we only serve coffee a few hours every night. I know my idea for a coffee machine hasn't gotten wild endoresements, because the whole concept of a coffee machine just sounds so tacky. It need not be. Here is a picture of something I envision that could be available whenever the building is open: http://www.supramatic.com/Carts/Carts.html

On to the "one-stop shopping" model. I think we need to consider this carefully before we proceed. Especially, are our customers really inconvenienced by the current set-up? Doctor's offices have embraced the one stop shopping model by putting specialists in one office complex. If your GP can't diagnose your knee problem, you go down the hall to get x-rayed or see the orthopedist. I think most patients think of this as excellent service.... not a hassle. We simply can't cross train everyone at a ref/circ/IT desk to handle the variety of problem that will occur.

When I worked in restaurants, I recall patrons getting very angry if they needed to wait for a table, but could see an empty one. What they didn't know was that there was no waiter assigned to that station, or the table was already reserved. How would it look at a combined service point in Olin if there were 5 people waiting for IT help, but the Reference librarian was free and not offering to help the IT customers? Sometimes we may be able to pitch in, but more often than not we will merely appear incompetent or "passing the buck."

wzhang said...

They are very good proposals. Especially I am open to the idea of consolidating circ. desk with IT help desks (three? - downstairs, 24-hour lab and multi-media area), and may be reference operation. I can certainly understand Carolyn's concerns, but from users' perspective, it would be much more logic and smooth services.