Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons of Allendale

The library was opened in 2013 near Grand Valley State University and from the very beginning it was designed as a library to be fundamentally different from traditional library spaces. The whole building was furnished with a view to providing students with an environment that is as convenient for studying as possible. Of course, the institution’s services were also designed accordingly. Three years have passed since its opening. During this period the library kept statistics on a continuous basis and gathered readers’ opinion with questionnaires and on social media pages. The conclusion drawn from these was that the institution was moving in the right direction; readers talked positively of its services and the numbers of patrons were also positively affected. They recorded 3.2 million visits in 3 years. The surveys covered a wide variety of things, analysing the ways readers use the available spaces, which assets, facilities, furniture they use, how they use them and how many times they use them, and whether they like to study in groups or alone (50-50%). Drawing on the information so gathered they continuously adapt the layout, equipment and services of the library. Lee C. Van Orsdel says the library belongs to its patrons: they must develop a sense of ownership of the library and all of its elements. Mary Idema Pew Library achieves this by having its staff working only in the background – in their offices – and, for instance, return objects and pieces of furniture moved by patrons to their original places only once, at the beginning of each semester. Rather than introducing changes arbitrarily, they always discuss the intended changes with the patrons who, by being involved in decision making, regard the library even more as their own. Whiteboards positioned in many places across the premises, on which students are free to leave notes, are the library’s most used assets. They actively use the boards for taking notes, working out calculations or even drawing just for fun. In addition to the whiteboards there are projectors and displays patrons can freely use; there are frequent exhibitions, music programmes and other events patrons would like to see.
What makes the programme particularly valuable is that the library is truly operated in such a way that patrons can easily spend whole days there, where everything is available for efficient studying and recreation. All this was achieved by involving readers in the decision-making process.

This article based on the following document:

Socialized Operation of Cultural Institutions : A methodological guide to community-based operation