Open Conference Systems at Dalhousie, International Association of University Libraries, 2016 Conference

Font Size: 
Listening & learning from our users: exploring uncharted waters in library space redesign
Vincci Lui, Heather Cunningham

Last modified: 2016-03-14


Even though libraries face such challenges as the changing tides of declining circulation statistics and increasingly electronic collections, there is no denying the long-lasting importance and value that patrons place on the physical spaces of libraries. In Fall 2015, the Gerstein Science Information Centre at the University of Toronto (Gerstein Library) was approached with the opportunity to refresh several public spaces - a daunting but nonetheless exciting task to undertake, since the largest academic science and health science library in Canada is housed in a beloved heritage building dating back to 1892.

Before leading any renovation project, libraries must carefully map out this process and put together an informed proposal - first and foremost by listening to the user community. While library staff can have well-founded assumptions about the users and spaces, it is equally important to see if these assumptions align with actual data. Gerstein librarians also seized this renovation as an opportunity to dig more deeply into the space needs and wants of its user community.


Attendees will learn about the case study findings and strategies on how to effectively lead, design, and implement collaborative space planning exercises that engage more deeply with students with tight timelines, limited staff, and a modest budget. The study design also compared staff assumptions to users’ articulated wants. Based on an integrated framework drawn from other studies, the methodology behind the exercises (print and online survey, comment boards, design drawing activities, and an idea photo board) will be shared as well.

By asking our users what they actually require from our physical spaces, and offering them the opportunity to have a leading role as main stakeholders, the Gerstein Library is now well-prepared to undertake the next leg of the renovation planning journey.