Virus-Responsive Design

From American Libraries:

Libraries have always been spaces for discovery. But 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. As some institutions emerge from months of shutdowns, design and architecture experts seek to meet current health and safety challenges as well as safeguard these community spaces against an uncertain future.

Traci Engel Lesneski, CEO and principal at Minneapolis-based national architecture firm MSR Design, which has worked with hundreds of libraries across the country, says libraries are ideal spaces for innovative design solutions. “It’s not a stretch to think about the ways that libraries have modeled what’s next in the world,” she says. “Libraries can talk to the public about how important these things are and advocate [for them]. They can provide hands-on learning and access to certain technologies that people don’t have access to in their everyday lives.”

Yet libraries have had to find new ways to provide that access. “[COVID-19] is aggravating the digital divide,” says Susan Nemitz, director of Santa Cruz (Calif.) Public Libraries (SCPL). “There are a number of people who don’t have access to the internet and computers, because we haven’t opened up yet.” She says that effective design solutions will have to bridge not just physical and digital distance, but socioeconomic distance as well.

“We find that, more and more, our community is isolated,” she says. “And we’ve been moving away from being a warehouse of books to being a social connector.” Nemitz, whose library system passed a $67 million bond issue to replace and remodel all 10 of its buildings before the pandemic hit, says she’s had to reimagine her library’s mission. “The COVID crisis has thrown a wrench into who we are and what we believe,” she says. “Do we build our buildings for the situation we’re in now, or the situation in the long run?”

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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 Markovic. “For instance, at Baldwin Borough Public Library [in Pittsburgh], we put casters on the stacks to make them easy to move around. We can now use them to create little pods. And at Carnegie Library [of Pittsburgh], we’re implementing cleanable surfaces and discussing an HVAC system that allows for increased ventilation.”

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Libraries that have been unable to provide public access during the pandemic may have an unusual opportunity to upgrade. “One of our libraries that was renovated had its entire collection digitized when it was removed for the renovation,” says Thomas M. Hotaling, architect and principal at Ann Beha Architects, a Boston-based design firm that works with education and cultural clients. “I’m wondering if this might be a good time for [other] libraries to digitize their collections. If the funding is available, this is an ideal time to think about that.”

Link to the rest at American Libraries