Library as Commons

Presented by Cheryl Bryan, SEMLS

Monday, October 20 11:30

Presentation available at:

It’s not news that many public libraries are experiencing or anticipating budget cuts. With this current bleak state of the economy in mind, libraries have to do a better job of explaining to the public how the services we offer are going to improve the impact of the library on the community.

It is important that each library align itself with community values. Be aware of demographics and specific needs; make changes to reflect these needs.

In both public and academic settings people use the library as a place to see and be seen. Sometimes, interaction with library staff is the only personal interaction a patron will participate in that particular day. Staff should always be welcoming.

Public libraries should reach out to other community agencies and collaborate on services. We see this happening in academic setting with librarians imbedded into specific departments and reference librarians teaching classes. Public libraries should learn from models of academic libraries – they almost always have cafes and study rooms.

“If you offer wi-fi and coffee they will come!”

Examples of library as commons from audience members: Homework center for tutoring and homeschooling; lecture series; one-on-one computer tutorials; ESL classes; conversation circles.

Pay close attention to what your library looks like from the outside…is it tidy? Is your signage appropriate, with good design? Is is properly located in the building? There should be a strong sense of arrival as soon as a patron walks into the building.

There should be comfortable seating for a variety of activities. Pay attention to patrons who move library furniture around – they are telling you something! Maybe their configuration works better.

Children’s service areas need to be thought of as family zones with seating for all ages. Keep in mind that we expect parents to stay with their children in these areas so they should be given comfortable seating options.

Make zones in the library for quiet reading areas and areas for group activities. Use the natural sound barrier of books to insulate the quiet areas.

Think about how users receive and process information. Public libraries will inherit academic library users – they will expect the same types of services, ie IM reference.