Friday, February 27, 2009

Floor Plan!

First of all, an update (or non update) on last week's post: no news so far on whether the design will be handled by someone from outside the research center. There's going to be another meeting about it monday, so I'll know more by then. Now that that's out of the way, this part has been a long time coming: floorplan!

The library is the bit near the top center of the image there. The front doors (the library is surrounded by frosted glass walls... classy, right? And oh so modern) open to the main library space. Just to the left of the entrance is the library work room, and across from that (upwards on the diagram) is one of the offices. The other office is the lone tiny room off to the side, on the right upper portion of the library. So that's what I have to work with!

Early considerations to set down: the space, overall, is larger. My idea so far (as far as creating a more open area, a sort of mini icommons if you will) is to make the area around the entrance as welcoming and open as possible, and place the stacks and shelving further back into the space. This will also allow undisrupted flow to and from the workroom, should people need to use it. The windows are blocked by the nearby parking garage, so allowing for natural light is (unfortunately, perhaps) not an issue here.

Things to be determined at this point: we've been told that outlets are placed 'every four feet or so' within the space, but it would be nice to know exactly where they are for desk/computer placement and so on. I've already got a pretty good idea as far as the materials placement (as far as what I know about what gets used the most), but that's obviously something I need to hash out completely with Louise before moving forward. We're starting on taking all the measurements next week! Things are really coming together past the research stage, so it's exciting for me.

In a nice coincidence, the iSchool computer lab decided to offer a shortcourse on Omnigraffle
(a visual design program that's often used for early floorplans) right when I need it! I'll be heading to it next Monday from 12-2. The lit review is pretty much wrapped up at this point (I still need to write the intro, but that shouldn't take long) so it'll be nice to have most of March and April to take measurements and work out floorplans. My goal is to make maybe 3 variations and provide some sort of reasoning for the differences in each. Unless I can come up with something that's just perfect on my first try. Is there beginners luck in library design?

At the very least, I know to avoid shag carpeting and earth tones. One thing I've noticed: library design literature refers to the 70's the same way some countries might refer, say, to a history of war crimes.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fightin' the Man

MAJOR UPDATE: Recent events have forced me to make this a 'very special' edition of Joel's Capstone Blog. I won't be naming names (to protect the innocent), but there are a few very important developments that have to me mentioned before I move forward. Things are about to get somewhat interesting, and not exactly for the better.

Yesterday, my field supervisor and other higher ups here at the research center met with the UT representative who is negotiating CTR's move to the new building. Unbeknownst to the folks here at the center, the purpose of this particular meeting was to introduce an interior designer who had been brought in to help create a consistent look and feel for the various floors of the new building. This wouldn't have been a problem, if she had asked questions and tried to work with CTR staff to determine what would work best for the center and be aesthetically pleasing... but what actually took place during the meeting wasn't nearly that productive (or civil). It ended up being more of a hostile takeover.

Basically, staff were informed that an inventory would be taken of all the furniture currently at the center. This would include both common areas (meeting/break rooms, copy rooms) and individual offices. Then, the designer would decide what furniture would work best where in the new space- without regard to staff preference or comfort level. Let me make that clear: the designer was requesting free reign to remove someone's desk from their office and put it somewhere else, if she felt it better served the purposes of the new space. Maybe not the best way to introduce yourself?

And this plan, of course, included the library. She actually came down to see it, and as it turns out: this just won't do. Some of our shelves are different sizes, and colors even! Our desks are too old! Our chairs don't match! Never mind the fact that we manage to serve our patrons to the best of our abilities, and have won a few TxDOT awards for service (I may be a pinch bitter about this, if you haven't noticed). And beyond that, the implication was that we needed to buy new furniture. One of the other floors in the new building is buying a whole new set of modern looking chairs and desks- I've seen it, and it does look nice. And while what I've read so far does recommend maintaining a consistent look and feel to your library, the fact remains: we don't have the money for a whole new set of furniture, or new bookshelves. We have to make the best with what we have, period. And forcing researchers and staff to mix and match with what they're comfortable with isn't going to create a better work environment.

The meeting, ultimately, seemed to be a pressure sale on purchasing new furnishings for the library and research floor. When we told the UT rep that we couldn't afford it, we were told that we would have to work with the designer. When we told them that didn't sound like it would serve our needs, they told us it might be made mandatory. The plan, as of now, is to not back down and insist that the CTR be allowed to plan the move ourselves (though the designer is now in charge of finding a moving company, by the way... instead of going with the people who moved the library last time, and know about book/report placement and so on. Excuse me if I ARGH). But, depending on what happens... all the suggestions I put together might ultimately end up being ignored.

This is a depressing prospect, but my field supervisor insists that I move forward as if the future of the library is actually in our hands. Everything I've read so far emphasizes that aesthetics, while important, should not be placed over functionality. So I still plan on best using what we currently have. Still... frustrating! More as it develops.

Friday, February 13, 2009

On Literature Reviews

First things first: the floorplan scan I promised in the first post has now officially reached "ever-elusive" status. I talked to Louise about posting it online, and she said we would probably have to clear with some of the higher-ups here at the research center first. I am planning a choice post for when (crossing my fingers that the "and if" addendum isn't necessary here) it all comes together, however: expect a future post containing the floorplan and pictures of our current library space. Red tape! That's what I get for working for the guv'ment.

This week, Lousie and I hashed out the details for the Literature Review I'll be delivering come the end of March. I'd been wanting to know some of the basics: how many items, what metadata fields to include, and general partitioning of focus (mostly design? Or mostly library moving information?). Here's what we came up with:

  • 25-50 items (books, articles, etc.), with 50 being the absolute maximum. Narrowing it down to 30 high quality resources would be preferable.
  • Requested metadata fields included title, author, date published, publisher, and abstract/description if available.
  • The main focus of the literature review should be on library design, with regards to aesthetics and functionality. Much of the move itself has already been planned out (movers hired, schedules set) so my job will be to determine what to do with the stuff when it gets there, rather than how to get the stuff where it needs to be. Procedurally speaking, of course. Information on best practices and future goals for creative/effective use of library space is also desired.

To that end, research has been moving along quite nicely. The PCL has an excellent collection of print resources on library design (with many books in German, actually... shame my other language is French! Hopefully my grandmother never reads that), which I raided to the best of my abilities. Currently I'm reading 'Academic Libraries as High-Tech Gateways', which deals mainly with how libraries can best deal with the increasing focus on electronic resources within the information field. Overall, the message of the book seems to be that while electronic resources may gain prominence, print will still have an audience for the near future.

Or perhaps well into the future! The books does mention that in many cases, it depends on the institution. One of the things I've realized when trying to apply research I've been reading to an actual situation is this: reality has it's own constraints. While new furniture and paint may make a library more inviting to a potential patron, what if your institution can't afford furniture because of budget cuts? As far as the CTR goes, I'm pretty much stuck fitting what we have now into a new space, and doing my best to make an open environment by rearranging rather than reinventing. Which isn't to say that these books aren't helpful... it's just equally important to know your particular institution. Luckily I've worked here for a little over a year now.

Next week? I'm planning to start looking into blueprinting software soon... April will be here before I know it! And since I'd hate to break another promise, I'll say that will be next week's focus. If the big floorplan post ends up happening, it'll just be a nice surprise.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Where we are, Where we're going

So Louise has been out sick for most of this week, which means no new project update meetings. That being said, the floor plan rundown I promised last week will have to wait a while... but that's circumstance for you! Sometime it's out of your control.

That being said, I think it might be worthwhile to really dive into talking about the CTR library itself: collections, patronage, workflow, and so on. And beyond that, I'd also like to touch on where Louise wants to take the library, and how this move is going to help to act as a first step. Join me, if you will...

Besides re-arranging the collections and stacks to fit the new space, the main thing Louise wanted me to focus on in this project was the possibility of creating an "iCommons" for the new library. An iCommons (or information commons, to forgo Apple parlance) is the term that has been adopted to describe areas in libraries that blend internet and computer technology with traditional library services. It was birthed from the shift, over the last few years, from libraries providing physical materials to providing access to information: possibly through the stacks, but also through online databases, internet search, etc. The iCommons is also associated with a more comfortable, inviting library space. For smaller libraries like the CTR, this means less about setting aside an "area" within the library as an iCommons space, and more about making the entirety of the space more inviting. (See the Wisconsin DOT from last week's post).

As far as implementing technology with traditional service goes, the CTR library is already remarkably on the ball. Official TxDOT reports, which make up most of the catalog, are available online as pdf's (links are available through the online catalog for ease of finding/use). Additionally, most requests are received through email, and most researchers request pdf's. These are either found somewhere on the UT campus as physical copies and scanned, or located on one of the many Engineering and Transportation Journal databases that the CTR subscribes to.

CTR's patronage, mainly professional researchers and graduate students, many on site at the center, contributes to this focus on online and electronic services. Most individuals who contact the CTR either (A) know exactly what they want, by title or report number, or (B) have a specific engineering search term in mind (which are often standardized within the field) that they want a literature review performed on. In the case of A., the item can either be found in the CTR's catalog, online, or through interlibrary services. If the patron works at the Center, they can pick the item up and return (either checking it out, or simply taking one of the free extra copies that come with shipments of new reports). If they work offsite, pdf's are preferred to physical copies for simple convenience: they can get there faster, and researchers have deadlines. Very rarely does someone from the general public (not from a University or Transportation Agency) contact the CTR Library, and even then they often prefer pdfs. Seeing someone come in to browse the stacks would be the equivalent, roughly, of seeing bigfoot riding a unicorn through time square. In the case of a literature review request, most searching is done online through CTR's access to transportation databases. After that, patron's selections are tracked down and, you guessed it, sent as pdf's.

Which isn't to say that the CTR library's current space is uninviting: it's certainly usable. The TxDOT reports, which receive the most interest, are on shelves with plenty of space between them, perfect for tracking down a report (which are arranged conveniently by project number). There's also a small reference section (cataloged following LoC standards) and a 'States Room' that houses transportation reports from the USA's other transportation departments. Still, the space itself is a bit stale: the front desk is placed just to the left of the entryway, out of site from entry patrons. When the patron gets through the door, they're met by the back computer monitor that sits directly in front of the GRA manning the desk. There is a small table with four chairs meant for collaboration, but comfortable and inviting would not be the first words that spring to mind.

The new library space will be more open, and will allow us to set aside more of a room for an "iCommons". Following Wisconsin DOT's lead, we will be attempting at some point to get some used furniture on the cheap. Luckily enough, the CTR is already run like a library of the new century. The next step will be to look the part.

Next week! Floor plan. This time, I promise.