Princeton’s Place Planning

Last fall, LJ published a supplement titled “Library by Design” (thanks Rebecca) that I totally missed because we had accidentally let our print subscription to LJ run out (it’s back now – and I’ve learned a valuable lesson about what I get from the printed page – but that’s another story). Reading through today, I see there’s a great article about the Princeton (NJ) Public Library and the process they used to develop plans for their new building (opened in Feb 2004).

First, and perhaps most importantly, the library board and director Leslie Burger, had a vision for the new library, but they knew that they needed community input before they moved forward with that vision. Instead of saying here’s our new library (visionary as it may have been) they said here’s what we see in a new library, what do you see? From the article:

This helped stir the imagination of numerous residents … Through focus groups we learned that the amenities most desired are cozy areas, lots of comfortable seating, a place to eat and a place to meet, and, most of all, special spaces for children and teens – along with plenty of research technology.

Remarkably, library leaders took community input alongside librarian input. Librarians wanted “quiet places to work” and “visible centers to interact with patrons – both at traditional service desks and at quick hit spots throughout each collection area.”

When planners looked at the input from the community and from library staff, they realized that everyone had the same goals: to see and be seen, but to have quiet and undisturbed space as well. They approached these needs in the new building design with a mix of colors, materials, and furniture that helped create separate environments that encourage different types of activities … “and embrace a diverse community.”

The outcome? A community-informed realization of the board’s original vision: the warmth of a family living room, a friendly “bookstore” environment, and a “community space” to gather in the information age. According to the article, library visits have more than doubled. I also hear they have one of the best Technology Librarians that side of the Mississippi (hi Janie!).

A few things pop out at me here: visionary leadership, a design process that makes community feedback central, and a feedback gathering approach that places library staff as peers to the patrons they serve.

Have you been to the Princeton PL? What were your impressions?

-CRH