Tell a Story and Add Immersive Planning
In this module we are going to look at an alternative way of thinking about environmental change. It is another tool to move the group toward alternative space planning. We are first going to explore the work of Doreen Massey, her thoughts on the multiplicity of space and how we are blinded by focusing on your single slice of time and function within a space. In what should appeal to all librarians, Massey talks about space as “a story, a narrative” that is continually being written.
We will also explore an “Immersive Planning” concept that Knoll Furniture has introduced into office and university space planning. The concept works equally as well in the school library environment but is currently not being leverage there. The process recognizes that space boundaries are becoming unclear because of the way users want to work. Defining a space with a single purpose has lost its functionality in today’s world, or as Massey states space is a “multiplicity of trajectories”.
The Library Space as a Narrative
Ask students to reflect on Massey's concept of space as a narrative, and apply this thinking to their own library spaces.
Students will consider the potential value of the MakerSpace, Learning Commons, or other innovations in the context of their individual school settings.
When you think about the school library space as a long narrative, with many chapters, it becomes less difficult to imagine plot twists and surprise endings. As Massey so insightfully states: “..we recognize space as always under construction. Precisely because space on this reading is a product of relations-between, relations which are necessarily embedded material practices which have to be carried out it is always in the process of being made. It is never finished; never closed. Perhaps we could imagine space as a simultaneity of stories-so-far.” (pg 9)
Using this logic decide where in the story your school library is at the moment. Progressive or affluent districts may be much further along in their programs, technology, infrastructure, and resources. Some may think they have completed the transition to a new library concept. They may have already become complacent thinking other schools should use their library as a model for their own renovation. But they are mistaken. Their story is not finished; they have only finished this chapter. Their story is bookmarked at the moment; hopefully there is much more to be written. Ironically, their story may be actually falling behind the school that was turning pages more slowly, discovering alternative options for their users based on continually surfacing ideas.
A school library, especially today, cannot be stagnate; it must constantly build on a base of knowledge just as our students are building. Where you are at the moment is not as important as where you are going. Being the information gateway is evolving with the nature of information and its expanded accessibility.
So where in the story is your school library today? Where is the rest of the school and most important where are your students and the tools they are using? Can your team of planners write a narrative in this slice of time that eclipses the standard plot line and addresses the unique challenges of your students?
Because so many schools are at such diverse places in the narrative of school libraries, it is important to consider whether you can just jump ahead or if you must turn each page and follow the formula that has developed over the last few years. Do you need to become a MarkerSpace or a Learning Commons or should your school library skip to a later, as yet un-named chapter? As Massey would say, are you being “dragooned into line behind those who designed the queue”? These are the questions this module will ask of the planning team.
Ask students to reflect on the concept of "Immersive Planning", defined and described in the Knoll's Furniture white paper, and connect this with Massey's concept of space as an evolving narrative with a “multiplicity of trajectories”.
“Immersive Planning” is a concept that Knoll Furniture has introduced into office and university space planning. The concept works equally as well in the school library environment but is currently not being leverage there. The process recognizes that space boundaries are becoming unclear because of the way users want to work. Defining a space with a single purpose has lost its functionality in today’s world, or as Massey states space is a “multiplicity of trajectories”.
Changing dynamics call for a new, “immersive” planning approach that is as fluid as teams themselves, states Knoll’s literature. “As workspaces become defined by an individual’s actions rather than job function the lines between space types diminish, enhancing interaction, inviting connected experiences and radiating a sense of hospitality at every exchange.” This focus on experiences and a sense of hospitality parallels some of the design models driving new school libraries whether stated or implied. The Learning Commons model for example supports both collaboration and casual, comfortable seating. But by using the immersive planning process your environment will have greater definition and sharper learning expectations.
The three elements this design process employees are Improvisational, Dimensional and Communal. By using a structure for conversations and planning, you create a much better understanding of how the space is intended to be used. Measuring whether those intentions are being met becomes more straightforward. In a school environment it is important to not only create a “cool” place for students to hangout, the environment must also be measured on how well it is supporting learning.
The goals of immersive planning is to “cultivate an environment of dynamic flow, constant movement, meaningful interaction, creative group effort and innovation within a gracious and welcoming setting.” This seems like an outstanding description of an alternative school library environment especially if you define constant movement not in terms of the users but with Massey’s concept of space.
Knoll Furniture developed their planning components after a four year research study following workers in numerous workplace environments. The results of their research can apply to students not only as future employees but also as they use learning spaces. Consider each component while planning library spaces and apply key user based questions to maximize the the team’s effort once fluid zones are documented and the architectural designs are undertaken.
Does the environment allow for continuous movement and purposeful transitions? Are zone boundaries blurred to maximize hospitality, discovery and easy access to experiences?
Does the environment create both visual and tactical diversions for the user? Is it sensory rich with multiple textures, materials and scales to create a compiling learning environment?
Is the environment user focused? Does it encourage inclusion, connection and co-creation? Does it become the “Third-Place” that users gravitate to when not in a structured class?
These components will surface again in module 5 as we further explore user based design in creating an alternative library design. A subtle but key difference in this design thinking process is explained clearly in the Knoll report. “Immersive planning diverges from a proportional, activity-based model designed to support work tasks and functions. Instead, it draws from a holistic point of view, in which workplace architecture, furnishings and people are linked and the design of the total environment outshines any one particular work element. It favors a people-centered focus that embraces a range of social and creative work experiences.”
Writing the Library Story
You are going to ask the class to write the story of their school library at this junction in time. As a group, critique the story, point out shortcoming of the current narrative and ask for ideas on how the story could be enriched immediately.
We start to renovate school library space frequently because it has grown dull and students no longer think they need to “read” the story this space is telling. Or perhaps, you have added significant technology into the space and students are there often but always sitting a a computer, never reading. In this task we are going to think about expanding the current story and adding element of interest.
From your earlier observations, discuss and documents why the current space is not meeting the needs of the users. Be objective, control your biases, be open minded and involve users in the discussion. Use images, key words, create a collage of ideas as to why the story is either no longer working or why it should be expanded.
For example, in a discuss with middle school instructors, they wanted their students to use the library more to read for enjoyment. Their complaint was incredibly interesting especially when they explained the students only were using the library to access large monitored Mac computers to work on digital projects. They felt the students were losing reading comprehension skills, reading test scores were falling; and how might the space help to swing the pendulum back a little? It is a high tech-charter school full of smart students slipping into reading at or slightly below grade level. How might this chapter be written?
This example brings into play the key concept of multiplicity of trajectories. Space with only one function is a problem. Massey’s concept of trajectories coming together over time, and how they will build on the past and current space is the critical question facing school libraries today. The problem is not that the former libraries are completely obsolete so much as new trajectories are merging in the space and must be acknowledged. And there are new, more dynamic trajectories coming through the walls routinely. Can school library spaces be layered in new ways to handle the multiplicity of trajectories they handle? What kind of new spaces would allow the story to thrive? Does it still require a single space?
While building your new library space story consider what impact virtual reality will have on it along with any other immediate known elements. Make sure the story elements are as complete as possible and make sure it is age appropriate.
Once you have a new story line for your space overlay how much improvisation the space needs to have for your age group and pedagogy. How flexible is the space? What will be the flow for users? Is there room for spontaneity or interaction? Who will presentations or guest speakers fit into the space? What can your users discover in their manipulation of the space as they work?
Now discuss dimension for the space; will there light, color, texture? Will there be an appropriate amount of complexity and visual interest? Is it easy to add objects of interest or create displays. Are the dimensional elements appropriate to the users?