I had a great time presenting on QualityMetrics insights on library buildings this summer in Belgium! Republishing here with permission the report on the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Satellite meeting in Ghent, Janine Schmidt AM FALIA, Trenholme Director of Libraries Emerita, McGill University, put together summing up the day’s talks. (original posted on the IFLA website)

We all travelled to be here in Ghent, from near, or far, to learn from the experiences of others about making successful journeys in designing libraries that provide services of excellence to the communities we all serve. Krist saw us off on our journey this morning and set the scene, reminding us that Library Design Matters in implementing the paradigm of the knowledge society in our libraries. His use of the term “odyssey” struck a chord with all of us, a long wandering voyage marked by many changes of fortune, and our day became an odyssey. Krist emphasised the importance of our travelling companions, touched on the use of planning software tempered by human experience, addressed the importance of being ambitious in developing the library of the future which ensures libraries remain relevant and highlighted anticipation and participation. Ensuring flexible responses to changing user groups is vital. Clear visions shared by all are important. “It is important that all are in the same place and not just any place.” The place of partnerships in effective projects was explored. The integration of digital solutions with the physicality of library buildings emerged as a priority in the planning. A question noted that bringing library staff along on the journey can be a major issue. The themes addressed by Krist continued to be mentioned by others throughout the day.

Martha [Kyrillidou] reminded us that “It’s not about the building – it’s about building the library.” And she addressed the pre-design phase. Her personal story about discovering public libraries in her teens and using school libraries highlighted the importance of vision and strategy – “Buildings Talk”. Capturing and discovering community needs through data analysis and the development of user prototypes are vital components of effective library design and she stressed the importance of leaving no one behind. The digital/physical integration again emerged through the concept of permeable ambient technology.

Libraries are about people, places and collections. Our lightning talks focused on collections, storage and space master plans with all emphasising the importance of careful planning. Joseph and Diane identified the importance of innovative approaches and an analysis of the marketplace with a view to transferring solutions from other sectors to our own. Open minds are vital. All options should be identified and investigated. There have been many wonderful take-home quotes throughout the day. “Every journey begins with a first step.” Sometimes there is not a clear starting point, and just taking a step, any step is important. But it is not enough. Joanne’s perspective on “Well begun is half done” was a timely reminder that going forward is important and can be complicated – an odyssey with twists and turns. She mentioned the criteria for assessment criteria used in architectural competitions, a topic addressed by others throughout the day. Alan and Grace described their odyssey. The importance of vision emerged again and the process of obtaining ideas and solutions through the use of interpretative planners was highlighted. Stakeholder consultation and UX (user experience) techniques had been used to gauge reactions and to gain different ideas and priorities. And our panel session highlighted the difficulty of choosing the correct questions to ask our users in seeking feedback.

We were all in awe of Nadia’s description of the Bibliothèque nationale de France project. Its enormity and breadth are dramatic and the assessment criteria for architectural competition submissions provided assistance to us all in receiving and evaluating proposals. The importance of sustainability and urban integration were mentioned, and reflected other conversations during the day long with budget, financial and costing issues.

In the afternoon, Roel demonstrated the impact of meaningful stories. His pride in the achievements of Het Prekheren was palpable and powerful. His story of the achievements in Mechelen convinced all of us. History is still happening. A derelict Dominican monastery has become a wonderful library interior nested in a dilapidated monastery with the library boasting different spots for different people, along with a gastronomic experience with accessibly priced sandwiches. Klaus and the long table highlighted the importance of library furniture. His excellent examples from all over the world reminded us of the importance of matching the furniture to the building, and to its users. Library users become very attached to the places where they sit; their learning and library experiences within our libraries are very physical. Long tables provide opportunities for communication, facilitate social events and support the mission of the library. And a long table is not tables put together!

The panel session provided valuable insights into library design and effective journeys from people who have differing perspectives. Karen, Evelien, Traci and Reinert provided personal responses to many of the issues raised throughout the journey we have taken during the day.

Roel’s presentation contained a Jean-Paul Sartre quotation which says it all “ Not in solitude will we discover ourselves, but on the journey, in the city, in the crowd, as a thing among things, as a person among people.”

For biographies of all the speakers and session titles from the day, please see the programme.