New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Facility Planning: Making Sense of Data - Technology

Part 8 of the Facility Planning Series by Karen Watson & Robert Hubsher

Our last article outlined ways to measure, interpret and communicate to your designer your library’s collections statistics and detailed requirements. While that task can be time consuming and perhaps as tedious as it is important, understanding what your research and data tell you about your technology requirements can seem less straightforward.  Understanding our technologically centered world and its influence on your library building is a basic skill you will need to be able to make your decisions and interpret them accurately to your designer.

One thing we do know now is that the use of technology in libraries will continue to grow. We can only make our best educated guess about how it will change our physical spaces, and the way we do our work in libraries. It is even more difficult to envision how technology will affect library users. Keeping up with the current literature on technology trends can be daunting. Library literature provides some insights into how technology is being used in libraries and a glimpse of the coming trends. In addition, organizations such as the Pew Research Center (http://www.pewresearch.org/) with their broad surveys and focus on such topics as Social Trends (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/) and Internet & Tech, (http://www.pewinternet.org/), not to mention their research on libraries (http://libraries.pewinternet.org/) provide valuable resources to help you think about the library you design and the services you provide. This information will be helpful as you think about how technology is likely to influence the design of your library.

As resources in electronic or digital formats continue to increase and the children of the Internet age grow up, their expectations and demands for the library building to accommodate technology will intensify.  This situation is complicated by the fact that as high speed Internet access becomes more readily available in homes, schools and the workplace, more people will be accessing library resources from outside the library building. There is also increasing demand to accommodate the growth of BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology). As children of the Internet age mature and recognize the need to socialize face-to-face, and more people are engaged in telework, there will be a surge in demand for physical space to meet peers and interact with others - with and without a technology interface.

Our research shows us that these opposing, yet interdependent, trends have implications for the future of library buildings. In the short term, the next ten to possibly twenty years, demand for access to computers in the library will continue to increase as will the need to accommodate BYOT. Another trend we are seeing is the growing need to provide group work spaces with the ability for people to share access to technology, for example large screens for small groups to work together.  Beyond this timeframe it is easy to imagine a shift away from in-library use toward ever increasing offsite access to library resources and significantly more BYOT. This will change the way library staff will interact with users, transforming face-to-face interactions into electronically mediated communications using live-chat, webcam and video conferencing. There will also be a growing need for the library to develop its virtual space – social networking and interactive web based resources. The implication of this trend for library buildings could mean a decreasing need for public access computers but an increasing need for computers and related equipment for use by your staff. This trend would also require a different configuration of staff space to allow several staff to interact simultaneously with different users online. Correspondingly there will be a need to provide public shared space for people to meet physically and to interact.

The increasing need for physical space seems to fly in the face of the trend toward increased remote access but, just think for a minute about all the people who go to cafés, restaurants and other public spaces with WiFi even though they are alone with their laptop, tablet or other device. We believe this is an indicator that people who work alone (teleworkers) want to be in the company of others even if they are strangers. We see this as a clear indicator that libraries need to accommodate this need and consider the addition of café style spaces.

Three elements of data collection are required to effectively understand the implication of technology on the building:

  • 1.  NUMBER:  A count of the number of computers and other public access hardware currently in use, by department or functional area (e.g., in the children's area, reference area, teen space);
  • 2.  WHEN/WHERE:  An account of the number of computers and other public access hardware in use at different times of the day, days of the week, different seasons and for each area, where computers are located. The data must also record if the network was down or if individual computers were unavailable during the period of observation. (Line-ups or waiting lists for computer access do not necessarily mean that there are not enough computers available. If the line-ups are caused by downtime or very slow response time (insufficient bandwidth) you may have a computer or network maintenance issue or a problem with your telecommunication provider.)  
  • 3.  AGE:  Recording the age of the current hardware. Older hardware may need to be replaced, although this will not affect the space requirements, it will have an impact on the capital budget.

Another important consideration of public and staff access to technology is the need for electrical cables, data cables, servers, routers, network switches, Wi-Fi transmitters, uninterrupted power supplies (UPS), etc., which take up physical space that is not visible to the users or most staff.  These space requirements will have an impact on the design of the building.

If your library currently offers Wi-Fi services, you need to gather data about the number of people using this service simultaneously. You will also have to document whether people are sitting on the floor near an electrical outlet, or moving furniture closer to an outlet, or connecting to an outlet by stretching their electrical wires across the floor, creating a safety hazard. This data, along with your assessment of the growth in demand for this service, will help determine how much additional space to factor in for furniture to accommodate these users and the number, placement and location of electrical outlets they will need. If you plan to offer WiFi services in the future, you need to estimate the number of users you anticipate and factor this into the space requirements.

It is not realistic for most libraries to provide sufficient computers to accommodate brief daily or intermittent peak demand periods. You will need to determine what percentage of the time there are line-ups in each area of the library and how often people on waiting lists do not get access to computers. Perhaps the childrens or teens areas have a surge of use after school. Does this happen every day or at exam time? It is easier to justify the decision to increase the number of public access computers based on data that shows a regular and consistent demand which exceeds availability. On the other hand, making the case for increasing the number of computers in the teens area to accommodate peak use at exam time may be a harder case to make. Realistically you will have to decide what a reasonable wait time is and plan your workstation needs around this concept.

The more accurate and complete data you work with, the stronger your case will be.  Diane Mayo’s Technology for Results: Developing Service-Based Plans is an excellent resource to help you better understand and evaluate the technology needs of your library.

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