Some thoughts for redesigning a library reference desk

We are undergoing a library redesign project and here are some brainstormed ideas of how I would create an information experience at a modern university library:

1. Would it be desirable to have a prominent desk greeting users as soon as they enter the library, or a more open space (with a smaller desk) that would allow users to get acquainted with their environment?
Desks create a barrier between the patron and us. Why not an open space, with a few bar-height round tables with stools, carpeting (or different flooring) to indicate that this space is special. This space could be directly in front of the entrance, the first thing students see when they come in.
Other spaces could be designed close at had, like a more private “cabinet’ type with table, chairs and connectivity tools (chargers, plugs, etc.) In all cases, the consultation space should be open – ne distance between users and staff.

2. What kind of furniture would you like to see in the new space?
Round tables. Same chairs for patrons and staff. High tables and stools for quick discussion. Closed cabinet for longer issues.

3. What type of equipment / tools / technology should be available?
Internet. Multiple surface technologies – Wired PC with many screens facing in various directions. Tablets. Paper and pencils also – they are mysteriously portable, stable and useful when available. Other paper technology: Stapler, stapler-remover, hole punch, high-capacity printer. Electricity plugs. CD Burner. USB connectors easily available. 3D printers…. maybe even a few reference books still. Expresso machine (the kind that makes coffee).

4. Should there be many levels of service spaces available (i.e. information, reference, technical assistance, etc.), and if so, how would you envision the furniture / technology available for each?
Remember, users do not care what “category” their question falls under. They will keep asking if they feel their interlocutor is competent. So, this question is biased towards our conception of their need (which, I will argue without further discussion, is wrong).
Time is the only factor useful to distinguish between the “types” of questions. So, there are long interactions and short interactions. Short ones require an open, standing-up level, space, with high round tables and longer interactions require more comfortable, intimate, space. Round tables and same chairs for patrons and staff speak to an open, collaborative, collegial service.

5. Any other comments on how you would envision the space (or anything else you’d like to comment on)?
Yes. The name we give to the service is everything. I hate long complex concept driven names. I like short, evocative names. So, I would call the Ref\Tech\Info desk the “ASK” area and the circulation desk the “GET” area. This draws from the FTP (file transfer protocol) whereby you define system functions with simple 3-letter words. Would help with branding and directing students to the proper area.
Stop using the word “desk” – a desk is where you sit and work. We interact with patrons, so we need a new way to explain the space… I suggest “area” as a better term, there could be others.

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