Future academic libraries: orientation spaces

And another thing! I knew there was something that I forgot to say in yesterday’s non-post.

A couple of students I spoke with yesterday seemed quite obsessed by the elimination of noise in our new Library and what we intended to do about it. Initially, I just said it could be done via decent architecture and interior design of the spaces, including furnishings. I could not illustrate that point as there was no web access in the studio we were in, so later on I talked about the importance of the orientation space created by I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum. It links three buildings and after it was proven to be successful many museums around the world followed their example including the British Museum and the Australian War Memorial (AWM) as it was so effective in introducing visitors to the museum and in allowing for improved and more appropriate circulation.

I believe the orientation space provided via the main entry is also going to be extremely important for us in our new Library. That is what will primarily change visitor behaviour from that of the external learning commons and the services it provides. If designed well it should also assist in the provision of services to, and management of (non-UTS) community members who may be allowed access to the Library. When the AWM began the first phase of its massive redevelopment over the last 15 years, the first gallery to be upgraded and completely redesigned was the Second World War gallery. That gallery probably comprised about 1/3 of the space within the museum proper. It was deep-set in the museum after entry and you almost had to traverse part of the First World War galleries to find it. The AWM leadership was advised of the importance of also reworking the orientation gallery and embarked on an ambitious program to redesign both at the same time.

The orientation gallery was smaller and was finished first, but it provided a much more contemporary and enticing entry than the previous dark and cluttered space. A massive glass showcase was designed and built by a glass artists (now deceased) from Queanbeyan and the Director pushed the positioning of one of only two Gallipoli landing boats in that foyer as the main feature “statement”. The showcase contained items from all parts of the collection giving people a taste of what followed in the main galleries: all without any textual interpretation. When it opened, people knew they were entering a special place designed to assist them to understand the Australian experience of war. There is something for everyone. Visitors are greeted and tours meet in that gallery. Since then many museums have followed suit and now the National Gallery of Australia is finishing off a completely redesigned entrance along the same lines.

I saw much the same thing in all of the modern public and academic libraries (and galleries) that I visited in the US last year. Some did it better than others, but all had clearly devoted attention to their “orientation space”. Some examples can be seen in the Flickr slideshow above (all images are my own).

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