Library Design

Library Design – Interpretive Master Planning for Our New Town Squares (Part 2)

By Jo Ann Secor, Principal, Director of Interpretive Services


In Part 1 of this post, I discussed the contemporary role of libraries in our communities as 21st-century “town squares” that serve a diversity of new needs and patrons, as well as how Interpretive Master Planning is critical to ensure that modern library design meets these needs. In this post, I’ll reveal how we used the Master Planning process in several of our recent library projects.



Library Design that Serves Diverse Communities


In 2010, as the Queens Library was completing the architectural design of an expansion to house a new science-focused Children’s Library Discovery Center, they approached SKOLNICK to help them unify the multifarious elements of the Children’s Library into a single environment used by a broad diversity of patrons. These elements included: library stacks, study areas, interactive exhibits, an early-childhood area and more.


The new Discovery Center serves the most ethnically diverse county in the United States, including children from 80 countries that speak more than 50 languages. Through our rigorous Interpretive Master Planning process, we created a space that is popular and well-used by the community, functioning as a “town square” by bringing together a richly diverse local population and assisting patrons from many different backgrounds in accessing information in an inviting learning environment that is both formal and informal, while being easy to navigate by all and that inspires curiosity about science in young readers.


Prior to our engagement, the Library had already established collaborative partnerships with the Exploratorium (for the creation of table-top science interactives) and program consultation with the New York Hall of Science and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Armed with this input, and based on our successful work with children’s museums, we set out to create an immersive, graphically rich environment that engages both children and adults as they seek the materials, programs and services offered in the Discovery Center.



Entry Portal into Children’s Library Discovery Center (Photo: Michael Moran)

Entry Portal, Children’s Library Discovery Center, Queens Library (Photo: Michael Moran)


Transitioning into this multi-activity Discovery Center meant creating a bold entry that would capture patrons’ curiosity about what lay beyond. The “Discover!” portal serves as a strong enticement to enter. Just inside the entry, a large floor map of the borough of Queens, with illustrative icons depicting local landmarks, orients patrons to the borough and helps them locate neighborhoods, subway and bus lines, and places of interest to children, as well as the 62 other libraries in the Queens Library system.


Certain icons on the map light up and play focused audio tracks when patrons walk over them – the crack of a baseball bat from Citifield Stadium, train announcements on the Long Island Rail Road, and piano music from the Steinway Factory. This entry is intended to create a strong personal identification for each visitor.



Queen's Library Discovery Center, Environmental Floor Graphics

Illustrated Floor Map of the Borough of Queens  (Photo: Michael Moran)


The map also orients patrons to the overall space, which houses an under-the-sea-themed, early-childhood reading and storytelling area (with an aquarium); a teen computer space; special “Science Plazas” that incorporate interactive exhibits, changing displays and reading material related to the natural and physical sciences; and other themed areas identified by colorful overhead icons.



Library Design Rooted in Pedagogy


The renovation of the Jackie and Harold Spielman Children’s Library at the Port Washington Public Library is even more ambitious in its mission and program to create a single community space and informal learning environment for children ranging in age from toddler to tween. The Interpretive Master Planning process led to the design’s central concept of a “Tree of Knowledge,” which subtly combines whimsical root, branch and leaf motifs with principles from Howard Gardner’s “Theory of Multiple Intelligences” and Jean Piaget’s “Developmental Stages of Children.” The result when completed will support different learning styles and developmental capabilities in an informal learning environment where young people can learn, grow and thrive through self-guided exploration and discovery.




Front Desk Rendering, Children’s Library at the Port Washington Public Library


Using strong environmental graphics, zones are identified through leaf and branch motifs that denote “Play,” “Think” (quiet study), “Listen” (music area), and “Connect” (learning commons media area). The end result will include a maker space, a stepped amphitheater, an area for tweens to study or listen to audio books and music, a play area for early learners, and an outdoor garden with plantings featured in beloved children’s books, seating, whirligigs, and a kinetic water feature.



Library Planning by Teens, For Teens


Following SKOLNICK’s completion of the new Children’s Reading Room at the East Hampton Library, a group of teen users solicited the Board of Trustees to imagine and realize a space for them as well. We are currently in the process of working with the teenagers and the Board to create their own Young Adult Room at the Library that reflects their lives and interests, encourages them to gather, learn, grow, and share together: their own mini town square.


Library Planning Workshop

Teen Responses to “Concept Image Board,” East Hampton Library


As Dr. David Carr, a thought leader on cultural institutions in the modern age, so eloquently put it, “…you find and use the energy of the people who arrive here in…the public library in order to renew and reinvent themselves, and so to renew and reinvent their communities.”


We are excited about the future growth and transformation of our libraries as they evolve into increasingly central and critical community-making spaces in our society and our lives.


Read Part One here.