I was fortunate enough to attend this event and conference on 14th March.

There were a number of speakers on the day and I present a summary of my learnings below.


Dr Libby Sander spoke about the Future of Work – are we there yet?

She identified that the need to express identity in the workplace is very important. She also spoke about the power of the environment as well as the need for quiet. If you can’t think and concentrate,  you become withdrawn and hostile.   And most importantly the need for purpose/meaning in the workplace.

She referred to the success of enterprises like Wework, Co-living, co-working spaces that create community. 

She asserted that a physical space creates your cognitive state and the phenomenon of “Presentism” …people being at work but not tuned in.

So, if you want to optimize performance, you need to give people choice and control over their environment.

Traci Lesneski, principal of MSR Design spoke about the Built Environment’s role in social cohesion. She referred to the artwork of Eric Pickersgill – Removed which so powerfully shows us the challenges we face in the contemporary world.

Traci spoke about how opportunities are to bump up against people different from you are minimised with the ability to shop online etc. She quoted a statistic of 30% of people living on their own which I had not heard before and hence the need to practise bridging skills.

She spoke about designing for inclusion; offering places for people to have sensory break, prayer, private phone call, feed their baby etc. and the move towards non gender specific as well as gender differences in toileting facilities.

I was interested to learn that our eyes need varied and diffuse lighting. Shadows help our eyes to see – who knew? and that flat lighting can be tiring. Seeing daylight moving through the day is apparently very important and Traci introduced me to a new word – Biophilia – and its importance. She concluded with the reminder that “practicality does not always feed the soul.” 🙂

Next up were Gulcin Cribb, University Librarian, Singapore Management University, and Tamagin Blake-Smith, HASSELL. I don’t have many notes from their session but I loved the stories and images they shared about how you think you know what the user wants, but then they go and make the space their own anyway…including corridors or furniture that was not fit for purpose. Tamagin reminded us that Designers can have difficult conversations with stakeholders for you. Gulcin and Tamagin found that simple tactile analogue feedback from customers worked really well for them (we’re talking yellow sticky notes on a whiteboard).

The next session was made up of a panel of the following speakers:

Anne Horn, Director of Library Services and University Librarian, University of Sheffield •

Klaus Werner, Head Librarian, Philologische Bibliothek, Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany •

Denelle Wrightson, Principal, Library Planning and Design, USA •

Mr Foster Zhang, University Librarian, Chinese University of Hong Kong Shenzhen

Klaus Werner blew my mind on a number of counts. For a start I did not even know that such a thing as a library of a philology existed (let’s be honest, I had to look up philology as well; I’ve led a very sheltered life). This building was designed by Norman Foster and is referred to as “the brain”. You get a sense of it from the photo above but you might want to check out this wikipedia article to get a better idea. It is 6000sqm and is not air-conditioned. It is recycled aluminium on the outside and white cloth on the inside. Crazy huh?

Imagine being able to do that in Queensland !

Denelle spoke about the need to provide different spaces for connection and the importance of outdoor spaces. “Beauty,” she asserted “is a function, not an add on.”

If I thought my mind had been blown by the Library of Philology, Mr Zhang’s presentation topped it off. He spoke about shelf-reading robots and automatic check-outs for users amongst other things. I did tweet about the facial recognition gates which provoked quite a response on Twitter. If you want to see it go here.

After lunch, Michael Lavery from M3 Architecture spoke about the master planning process for the city of Barcaldine and the need to connect everything cultural. The library  sits on junction of north south and east west highways and visitors are often the lifeblood of centre.  Michael spoke about discovering what made Barcaldine particular; the four aquifers, the trees and the wildlife. He spoke about artists from Barcaldine Hugh Sawrey and Janet Laurence and wanting to acknowledge their work.

In the afternoon, the Governor presented the Library Design Awards and you can read all about them here.

By far, the most useful session of the day, was after the Awards presentation. A panel of the winners were asked to talk about “After the Paint has dried”. Without fail, they all said their first response on walking into the new space was:

“The building seemed smaller than expected.” or “I wish I had more space!”

When asked what some of the unexpected side effects were of winning an award, one of the winners said that “award winning made us a venue for people who might not normally come to the library – (we had) a higher profile in the community. ”

Having a signature building changed the way they saw themselves and what the council could do. 

Visitor numbers doubled for the Perth Library and they saw a significant increase in membership 2500 to 10,000 per annum. 

Three tips given for those contemplating or undertaking renovations or new work were:

  1. libraries are about people
  2. Don’t put your clients offside
  3. consult with the community including people who don’t use it now

Lots to digest! My thanks again to my employer for sponsoring my attendance and to ALIA for facilitating such a thought-provoking and enlightening conference.