Planning and Designing Academic Library Learning Spaces: Expert Perspectives of Architects, Librarians, and Library Consultants

37 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2016

See all articles by Alison Head

Alison Head

Project Information Literacy; MetaLAB at Harvard

Date Written: December 6, 2016


This paper identifies approaches, challenges, and best practices related to planning and designing today’s academic library learning spaces. As part of the Project Information Literacy (PIL) Practitioner Series, qualitative data is presented from 49 interviews conducted with a sample of academic librarians, architects, and library consultants. These participants were at the forefront of the same 22 recent library learning space projects on college and university campuses in the US and Canada between 2011 and 2016. Most library projects had allocated space for supporting at least one of these four types of academic learning activities: collaborative, individual study, tutoring by campus learning partners, or occasional classes taught by campus instructors. Successful collaboration between the architect and the librarian was fostered by their shared commitment to meeting users’ needs, though few stakeholders systematically collected input from users beyond standard usage statistics and gate counts. Most interviewees reported facing some common challenges during their project planning and implementations. One challenge was translating design goals into tangible designs while trying to resolve issues of noise mitigation, shared space allocations, and providing enough electrical power for IT devices. Another challenge was ensuring effective communication practices with planning teams as well as campus-wide constituents throughout projects. Additional challenges included building consensus, compensating for project interruption and inadequate knowledge about both architecture and library IT issues, and having too few a priori evaluation metrics for linking learning outcomes to goals of the library space projects. Taken together, the success of library learning space projects depends upon shared knowledge and understanding of the sweeping learning, pedagogical, and research changes facing the academy. Librarians and architects need to work together to apply that knowledge and understanding to the unique environment and learning and teaching needs of their specific institution.

Keywords: academic libraries, learning spaces, architecture, design

Suggested Citation

Head, Alison, Planning and Designing Academic Library Learning Spaces: Expert Perspectives of Architects, Librarians, and Library Consultants (December 6, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Alison Head (Contact Author)

Project Information Literacy ( email )

4760 Montecito Ave.
Santa Rosa, CA CA 95404
United States
7078007590 (Phone)


MetaLAB at Harvard ( email )

23 Everett Street
Cambridge, MA 012138
United States


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