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Step 1: See with your customer’s eyes

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      In my article, “10 Steps to a Better Library Interior,” published in the September 15, 2011, issue of the Library Journal Library by Design Supplement, I outline several tips on how to improve a customer’s experience in your library building without spending money on a major renovation. I have had many follow-up requests for more information, so I have decided to offer a deeper discussion on each step in this blog series.

      Because you are in your building every day, you may not even see the interior anymore. Take a step back and view your library with fresh eyes. Walk through the building as though it were your first time using it. Can you identify the important areas of your library easily from the entry point? Is it clear where to go for help? What visual noise is in the way of these goals? Library organizations often collect cast-off or donated furniture and other items that are then shoe-horned into constricted spaces. The resulting disjointedness and visual clutter can make it difficult for library customers to find what they need or feel compelled to linger and uncover more of what your library has to offer.

      Customer expectations for libraries continue to evolve, and library interiors must keep up. Libraries support lifelong learning and should do so in all of the ways that lifelong learning happens today—through print, media, face-to-face conversation, making spaces, and the Internet. Today’s library customer is also becoming more sophisticated when it comes to design. Online imagery from around the world, HGTV, highly designed advertisements, and retail stores such as Target raise the design expectations of the consumer. A cluttered library interior with poor lighting and no visual connection to its neighborhood can’t compete with the hip internet cafés on every corner, which offer comfortable, inviting places to gather and exchange ideas. User comfort, which includes the ability to navigate a building with confidence, can be obtained through the use of place-making principles, including clear pathways, clearly identified spaces, and alignment of use to type of space. Addressing each of these principles will make your building easy to use and understand.

      • Navigation: Consider what would make your building more intuitive to navigate. Provide clear paths to products and services. Ensure that products and services are arranged to allow a natural flow through the library. Try not to conceal highly-sought areas, such as computers or new materials. Consider a building layout that allows users to visually read the building upon entering. Allow for views to the exterior where possible. Helping people orient themselves by using known surroundings helps them understand the layout, footprint, and scale of the building more easily.
      • Identity: Use visual hierarchy to direct attention to areas, such as through lighting, ceiling, or material cues. For example, the new McAllen Public Library, located in a converted Wal-Mart, uses super pendants to mark reading areas and create visual interest and hierarchy of space.
      • Alignment of Use: As libraries become overcrowded, new spaces often pop up in places that don’t support them well. Reassess what would best support each activity in your library and make changes to accommodate them. Does it really make sense to keep that quiet-study table now that you’ve added a new teen area directly adjacent to it?

      And, finally, avoid adding layer upon layer of signs to direct your customers and focus instead on getting the above root aspects right. Adding more signs to help people understand your building is the equivalent of putting on earphones to drown out your car’s engine knock, instead of fixing the problem causing the noise.

      Next month . . . STEP 2: REMOVE BARRIERS.

    • visual clutter from years of accumulated “extras” can make it difficult for library customers to find what they need
    • allow users to visually read the building upon entering, with views to the exterior where possible, for ease of navigation
    • create identity by using visual hierarchy to direct attention to areas, such as through lighting, ceiling, or material cues
    • About the Author

      Traci Engel Lesneski

      • Interior Designer / Principal
      • traci@msrdesign.com
      • 612 991 7764
      • View Bio