Statement of Benefit from Walt Johnson
Library Journal 2019 Library Design Workshop
Name of Recipient: Walt Johnson
Institution: Monroe County Public Library, Islamorada Branch
Date(s) of Event / Conference / Session: September 12-13, 2019
Please provide an overall, all-encompassing statement of what the event/conference/session was about.
The workshop brought together librarians, designers, architects and vendors in exploring the building, renovating or retrofitting of library spaces to optimally support the ever-expanding reach of modern libraries. Expert panel discussions illuminated various aspects of design projects, from getting the community on board at the outset, to raising funds for the project, developing a design theme, applying sustainable and even regenerative design elements, creating alternative-use spaces … all the way down to selecting the appropriate furnishings for a new and improved institution.
Very valuable in particular were the individual breakout sessions, where the architects and designers led small groups in hands-on brainstorming discussions dealing with real-world design challenges submitted by the attending librarians. This brought a sense of immediacy and relevance to what otherwise might have been simply an exercise in theory. The latter is far too common with conferences in our field, and not always particularly useful. These annual Design Workshops happily do not suffer the same ennui.
While all four of the breakout-session library examples happened to be public rather than academic in nature, many of the discussed individual design elements were readily applicable to both. This is particularly true when concerned with the optimal utilization of interior spaces, a subject that was examined closely. Integration of technology infrastructure was another aspect under discussion that would have been of prime interest to academic librarians.
Also, librarians of all stripes recognize that a great value in these types of events is simply interacting with other attendees. So much insight is shared back and forth amongst colleagues in these conferences and workshops that one can’t help but come away with new ideas, new perspectives, and new thinking.
As manager of a small, underfunded public library housed partly in a historic building dating from 1935 and partly in an ill-conceived addition from the ‘60s, the development of my branch is hampered by seemingly intractable issues with our physical environment and space utilization, as well as the limitations that come with being on the historic register. Thus, the spirit of creativity, alternative thinking and hands-on interaction in this workshop was of great value indeed.
As was the fact that one of the four real-world library projects just happened to be the renovation of a branch library housed in a building on the historic register. While the scale of our two branches is decidedly different – we in Islamorada are much smaller – many of the issues we face are fundamentally the same. The information absorbed from this breakout session was the most valuable aspect of the entire workshop to bring home to the Keys.
Of the four real-world library projects available to participate in, two were largely centered on expanding and enhancing that library’s resources and capabilities in behalf of young people. Much of what was discussed and many of the ideas brainstormed therein could be directly applied to the library and/or learning resource needs of both elementary and high schools.
Associated with this was a lively discussion on how schools and public libraries are developing cooperative ventures, to create together more than might be accomplished alone. This was particularly relevant to us in the Florida Keys, as just such an arrangement between our County and our school district helped make possible the current construction of a new library building for Marathon, our neighboring community a few islands south.
At first glance it might seem this type of workshop, largely directed towards public libraries and their expansive scope, might not have much to offer special librarians – those who provide librarianship in institutions with specialized or dedicated needs and collections, such as hospitals, museums, corporate archives and the like. Such is not really the case, however.
Indeed, one of the primary themes of the workshop was the importance of developing any physical project – addition, renovation, redesign – around the collections and the mission of the institution, rather than trying to shoehorn those fundamental aspects into already decided-upon plans. This is all the more necessary when dealing with collections and spaces more tightly focused than is typical in the public library arena.
The two keynote addresses in particular, both expanding on the value and necessity of early, robust and contextually-aware project planning, would I expect be of particular relevance to this specialized area of information science.