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Library serving a re-purpose

What becomes of the space as library services evolve?

April 26, 2016

Home Blog Library serving a re-purpose

The notion of library as a place has been in flux for many years and will continue to be in a state of transformation, especially in law firms, which have been under relentless pressure to keep real.

Yet even without external budget pressure, the increase in e-books and digital information resources and a concomitant decrease in the reliance on print resources means that library space will continue to be re-purposed and reinvented. estate costs and other operating expenses as low as possible.

All library owners and operators – whether they be law firms, universities, communities or other organizations – are finding new ways to use space that was once allocated for book storage and display, especially when that space is prime real estate. A good portion of existing book inventories can be housed—in less costly space and accessed when needed, with only a slight inconvenience to customer service. These days, the requestor will most likely find the book in an online search and reserve it in advance anyway.

As the meaning of the library continues to shift from “place” to “purpose”, we see libraries transforming into library labs, maker spaces, incubators, meeting places and classrooms. As the focus turns to the library as a service for reference, research and sharing, following are a few ideas and examples from around the web that show creative library innovation.

And for those of you who love the library as a place for discovering books (much as the bookstore), and hate to see either of them go away completely, please read on. We end on an optimistic note for you!

From Law Library to Collaboration Hub/Coffee House

Law firm libraries have been among the first, and the most drastic, targets of library downsizing.  Just as many firms have grown their market or practice area footprint, they have decreased their real estate footprint including smaller offices, greater use of outsourcing and relocation of some back-office functions to lower cost office space in places like Missouri and West Virginia. It also includes repurposing of space once dedicated to the law library. For example, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, a law firm in Atlanta, turned its library space into a space for informal meeting and collaboration, (requires sign-up or ALM membership) complete with espresso maker. Why go to Starbucks when you can enjoy your latte with colleagues?

The Embedded Librarian (Or Taking the Librarian out of the Library)

Even when there is no library, there is still a need for library services along with the valuable training, experience and knowledge of librarians. From that awareness comes the concept of the embedded librarian, in which librarians are ‘embedded’ into an area outside of a traditional library, such as an academic program within a university or a practice area within a law firm.

This approach not only maintains the value of the librarian but increases it through increased visibility, easier access, greater collaboration with and personalized service for clients and new roles like mentoring and teaching. We see untapped potential in embedded librarianship and expect more use of this approach in the future.

Highly Specialized Libraries

Perhaps we will see more special libraries that are devoted to very deep, narrow collections. This example from Stanford University comes to mind – the David Rumsey Map Center. Recently opened in the University’s Green Library, the collection contains over 150,000 rare maps donated by retired San Francisco real estate developer and map aficionado David Rumsey. Learn more in this article on the Stanford website.

Proof that Libraries Aren’t Only for Books

Highly specialized library collections are one thing, but how about highly specialized libraries that have nothing to do with books or other information artifacts like maps? In a very clever example of maximizing space and reinventing the concept of the library, a local animal shelter in New Mexico came upon the idea to bring cats over to county government offices, setting up a “cat library” for government employees. Featuring up to five cats at a time, they can be borrowed for a day to be with workers in their office. Ostensibly it has led to greater worker satisfaction, while raising awareness and adoption rates for cats that need a home.

What about all those old books out of circulation?

Some books, like legal information resources, have a limited shelf life. What do you do when they become obsolete or no longer useful? The Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology found an excellent way to recycle some old books, putting them to very clever and appropriate new use. After a fire devastated the school’s architecture building, the new architecture library opened with a front desk built out of recycled books. See several photos of what it looks like at,  a website devoted to sustainable design and architecture.

Public and Academic Library Redesign

To paraphrase Mark Twain about reports of his death being greatly exaggerated, the Inhabitat website includes many stories of exciting new library design and construction, most of them in public and academic settings. It shows that the libraries are still being built and redesigned in new ways. If you need inspiration or ammunition to defend your library as a place, you may find backup support in one of these several examples.

And finally, here’s an example of an unexpected role reversal of space that went from retail “big box” to public library. The McAllen, Texas library, billed as the largest single-floor public library in the United States, was built in a former Walmart store.

We like to think that LAC Group is at the front of the evolution (and revolution) of the library as it transforms into a service, with new possibilities in the digital age. Yet we also remain in the fight to preserve the library as a place!

Interested in a discussion of the future of your library function?

Contact us for a Roadmapping Consultation to begin the discovery of your own library transformation, or to ask any other questions you may have.

Deborah Schwarz

Deborah Schwarz

Deborah Schwarz is Founder and Strategic Advisor at LAC Group. She helps organizations focus on strategic solutions for managing information and research.
Deborah Schwarz

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