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What does the future library look like?

02 November 2020 | Australia

Written by - Marketing

It’s relatively easy to predict what the word of the year will be. Can you hazard a guess?




The use of this word in 2020 has been, well, unprecedented. See what we mean!


If we cast our eyes a few years into the future, the unprecedented events of 2020 will be having an unprecedented effect on our (Warning! New buzz word alert) “Covid-normal” lives.


This new normal will impact just about every library space.


What will these changes be? Should we start planning now?

The answers are A) Unprecedented and B) Yes.


What we know.

To find out what the “Covid normal” library looks like in the future, we threw away the crystal ball and conducted research and interviews.


Librarians and library staff have shown remarkable determination, creativity, and resilience during this crisis. Without the benefit of physical buildings and materials, libraries have continued to serve their communities by offering digital collections, video-conference book clubs, recorded and broadcast story times, webinars, and online consulting. 


Continued social distancing rules means it may be some time before libraries are again the bustling centres of community activity. Still, as libraries reopen, it may pay to take cues from businesses that have also begun to reopen. Inside retail stores, aisles have been designated for one-way traffic using signage both on aisle ends and on the floors. These are actions easily implemented by libraries to encourage safe social distancing.


Still looking to retail, a number of trends relate to libraries. In April 2020, AP news reported Pre-Covid 73% of shoppers preferred to handle their transactions via self-service. Since the pandemic began, 87% of grocery shoppers prefer to shop in stores with touchless or robust self-service options. 


Long lasting effects

Though the threat of this virus will end, it will have a long-lasting impact on people’s perceptions about safety and preferences for limited contact. In the wake of Covid-19, self-service library technologies will be more important than ever. These can include OPAC’s for customers to navigate through collections as well as self-scan check outs for books!


As libraries reopen, the key to success is flexibility. Eventually, we will ease social distancing, however, good design can avoid pinch points.


New library designs have intentionally emphasised open floor plans and collaborative study and community spaces.


Changes to Library Spaces

How will libraries furnish these spaces? Trevor McCann, from Raeco, manufacturer of library shelving, furniture and consumables sheds some light. “We have seen single seating as an emerging trend” he said. “Customers are also requesting visitor and lounge seating to be agile. This makes them easy to reconfigure for individual or safe group activities”.


“Protective screenings around tables, or study carells are also popular as they provide a visually pleasing visual barrier and an important social distancing barrier” Trevor added.


Surfaces should be easy to clean, think polypropylene shell seats or vinyl on lounges and tub seating.


For the last few years, mobile shelving has gained popularity. In 2020, libraries that have already made the move to mobile shelving are reaping the rewards. Trevor said “By dividing long runs of mobile shelving into dual bays and repositioning them as islands throughout a library, visitors can maintain safe distances. Mobile shelving also helps create a more inviting space, creating dedicated zones for visitors to explore and use. Although static shelving can theoretically be moved, it is very hard to reposition and place the bays around a library, or react quickly to changing social distancing rules”.


Trevor believes key library activities will continue and grow substantially. “With the right furnishings and placements, key library activities including story time should continue safely. There are many options for enabling this, including the placement of small round floor cushions on the floor before story time commences, indicates safe social distancing for our youngest visitors”.


In these unprecedented times, the layout of most libraries will change. With the right furniture, shelving and layout, many much loved activities should continue.



Libraries Around the World Prepare for a New Normal. Bibliotheca


Libraries Must Change, Anthony W. Marx, May 20 2020, The New York Times


“Designing resilient libraries for a post-covid world”. Building Design & Construction Amanda Markovic, May 12 2020


“Changed, Changed Utterly”, Christopher Cox Inside Higher Ed, June 5 2020


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Let us know what do you think

Paula 04/11/2020

Absolutely the way forward for libraries... in some ways sadly, as we know people want to be more connected; have a greater sense of belonging in their local communities; and interact in their libraries in more conversational, rather than transactional ways. Attractive Mobile furniture, that encourages stand up interactions as well as individual mobile seating pieces that can be “locked” or positioned for social distancing will be critical. At least until we get a suitable appropriate accessible vaccine! Whilst “Covid Normal” will be our mantra for a while, the marvels of continuous change will mean that we need to continue to do what libraries have always done so well - adapt, be flexible and responsive to community needs and the demands of the complex rapidly changing world we live in.