Insight - Design of an Academic Library

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How to Design an Academic Library

Jones’ Library of Academic Libraries offers a wealth of data and analysis for colleges in the market to update their library


No longer simply a place for books, academic research, and quiet study, the 21st century academic library is now a social destination, home for teaching and learning, a place of research, and an incubator for bringing ideas to life.

Book box, archive, student hub, campus nexus, quiet study area, collaboration space, classroom – today’s academic libraries support students in a myriad of ways. It is a place for people with information in it, not the other way around. With so many potential uses, how do you know how to program and design the right library for your campus?

Consult the library of libraries

Jones’ academic library database encompasses more than 85 institutions throughout New England and beyond. The information we have gathered includes general contextual information like campus size, character, makeup and program trends, including detailed seat count and type analyses as well as information about space utilization

We bring this data to bear on the design and planning recommendations that we make for university clients by identifying their peer group and drawing comparisons. This, however, is just the beginning.

Each institution is unique, of course, so we use this peer assessment as a benchmarking tool and launch point for asking questions about why, how and what the specific needs will be as it relates to your institution.


Libraries are active sites of social engagement, discovery, and knowledge sharing and creation. These are the key uses driving design now.

Digital Scholarship. We live in a multi-media world, which means campus libraries need to support students’ ability to explore, learn, and produce digital content. Faculty also uses the library to produce content for MOOCs.


Makerspaces have taken on many forms; at their best, they are more than just space and equipment, programmed creatively and appropriately staffed. Great makerspaces offer layers of access—visibility from corridor to activity within; a tinkering table that allows for drop-in, low commitment play for anyone; and deeper, more time-consuming fabrication capacity accessible to more experienced users.

Classrooms are increasingly finding their way into libraries. These versatile spaces accommodate shifts from dialogic to didactic pedagogical modes, and can function as open study space, event venues, or collaborative work environments when not in use as a classroom. Faculty and students alike enjoy access during the extended hours of operation of the library, in contrast to traditional classroom building hours. They are also heavily used by library staff for training purposes and for testing new technologies.

Social Spaces. We know that learning happens everywhere and spaces that promote social interaction strengthen student relationships and sense of community, while facilitating collaboration and the exchange of ideas. As such, we see cafes, lounges, laptop bars, and other in-between spaces as essential to libraries.

Each institution we work with is unique, and their libraries cleave to the culture of the place. Our database provides a basis of comparison to peer institutions but is not a formula for success on its own. The alignment of the character and needs of an institution with what we are seeing in the marketplace requires judgment, deep discussion, and iteration after iteration.

Things we see shifting in this landscape include: a subtle swing back toward quiet study, new strategic partnerships that broaden resources for faculty and students, a variety of collaborative work environments, digital scholarship opportunities, and development of “sandbox” teaching environments for use by librarians and faculty.

Our best practices include:

• Lean on all constituents – librarians, trustees, administrators, faculty and students.

• Survey, survey, survey.

• Build time in for technology testing and training.

• Pay attention to seat types and allocation.

• Support social learning.

• Make room for silence.

• Create versatile spaces; and

• Invest in strategic partnerships.

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