Libraries have always been spaces for discovery. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been tasked with transforming themselves into places that allow users to physically distance while being more digitally connected than ever.
An early start
Libraries that were in the process of renovating before COVID- 19 almost immediately pivoted, repurposing certain design features to address the new normal. “There have been some fortunate coincidences that were not intended to be in reaction to a pandemic but that we can use,” says Amanda Markovic, architect and associate principal at GBBN Architects. “For instance, at Baldwin Borough Public Library [in Pittsburgh USA], we put casters on the stacks to make them easy to move around. We can now use them to create little pods.
Clean and simple
Not all changes need to be expensive. In fact, some of the most effective enhancements libraries can employ involve only elbow grease and motivation. “One of the things that works is just cleaning,” says Markovic. “A good old ‘let’s wipe things down.’ And do that often.” “I think of gyms,” she says. “You have to wipe down equipment after using it, and that becomes easy, because they put the wipes near the equipment. So putting wipes near furniture and the front desk and near where people might want to go would be a visual cue.”
Products and placement
Design can also provide visual reminders of social distancing. Furniture is arranged in a completely different way, so visitors are spread out. If people need to face each other, a barrier or a sneeze guard or a panel can be installed. Mobile screens can be another way to create separate seating. Mobile furniture helps create Covid friendly spaces.
Product design is quickly evolving to meet the needs of environments that practice social distancing. “You’re seeing products pop up”—such as planters fabric screens and marker boards that act as dividers—“[that] feel natural but also keep people at a distance” Lesneski says. Furniture still needs to be welcoming she adds because otherwise people won’t want to be there. “
Storage considerations will also affect collections as many libraries now have a process for quarantining materials. Some Libraries now dedicate space for books to sit for three days and then be cleaned.
Designers say that the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity not just to modify libraries but to improve them for future use.
Buildings will need to create more usable spaces for people to spread out more and users need to trust the staff.
This is an edited extract – first published American Libraries.
By Lara Ewen