The ever-expanding role of public libraries is sometimes at odds with the small physical spaces they occupy.
A newly opened library in the Carver County city of Victoria is being touted as a prototype for achieving the maximum amount of community benefits from a minimum amount of space.
The Victoria Library, which opened in early March in a new building it shares with the Victoria City Hall, employs what its designers call "digital-in-person" architectural concepts to turn a modest 4,300-square-foot footprint into a community-friendly powerhouse that serves everyone from lovers of hardcover bestsellers to digitally obsessed teenagers.
Its flexible design allows people to use spaces in it for varying purposes over the course of a day without having to change around its physical elements.
Cindy McCleary, leader of the government market sector at the Minneapolis offices of international architecture firm Leo A Daly, said she and project designer Jessie Bauldry were seeking to compensate for the snug confines of the new Carver County Library branch with functionality.
"What we've been able to do here is design a smaller library that has the same level of resources of a much larger one," McCleary said this week during a tour of the new facility. "The way we did that is through the 'digital-in-person' concept, which is about using the library space for people to interact with each other and the staff, rather than for shelves of books, which are migrating to the digital realm through e-books."
For those patrons who still love the experience of holding a physical book in their hands, the Victoria Library has a delivery service link with the nearby branch in Chanhassen through which hard copies can quickly be sent over and stored on its hold shelf for pickup. Meanwhile, those opting for e-books have their own unique resources, explained Heidi Hoks, Carver County's library director.
"We have computer stations in the library that allow the public to easily browse our collections of e-books available on both the 3M Cloud and Overdrive services," she said. "Because of that, our e-book circulation has gone up even more than it had been."
At the center of the library's design features are its use of long, farmhouse-style tables, which supplant the bay of cubicles for desktop computers found in most libraries. It lets the space "flip" from use by individuals and small groups to classes of up to 24 students without any rearranging. The tables are equipped with power and data connectivity, enabling patrons project their screen's contents onto a wall-mounted video monitor.
"We're trying to accommodate multiple demographics over the course of a day," McCleary said. "For instance, we have a huge parent-children story hour during the day, then at 3 p.m., it flips over to a huge teen use, and after that it flips to families, seniors, book clubs, and other users. The challenge was to make this one space serve all these users."
"One hour, you may see people plugging in their devices to the various data ports, which are cleverly hidden in the table, and the next you may see retirees printing off recipes from a website and sharing them," Hoks said. "Later on, there are teens and 'tweens' using the tables to play computer games while waiting for their parents to pick them up."
Another futuristic feature adapts the Apple stores' Genius Bar tech support counters to a library setting. The Victoria Library's "Technology Bar" offers concierge-style interactions with staffers to help patrons navigate the digital world of the "library of tomorrow," thus expanding the traditional role of librarian to those of trainer, educator, concierge and adviser.
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul. He is the former editor of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Real Estate Journal.