In 2020–21, during COVID, the Bureau du design led a design-lab project along with the city’s Service de la culture to adapt library services and spaces to comply with the pandemic’s public-health constraints. The experiments conducted as part of the project identified various needs and opportunities for action aimed at optimizing libraries’ services and spaces for the longer term. To expand on those opportunities, the Bureau du design and Service de la culture subsequently implemented the project Biblio.Tests, in collaboration with the boroughs of Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Lachine and Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.
In addition to the recommendations stemming from the previous design lab (see this guide, produced in French), the project drew on a set of principles and solutions derived from the latest practices in design of public services and from the conception of libraries as so-called third places (tiers-lieux). The work of Nicolas Beudon, among others, helped inform thinking about design for public libraries, focusing among other things on the notion of inspirational design, which encourages a more intuitive and stimulating approach to and exploration of collections.
Specifically, six principles served to guide this exploratory process:
- Design more people-centric spaces, the experience of which is focused on users’ needs;
- Provide spaces and services that are better and more easily adaptable to evolving needs, not only in response to exceptional situations like a pandemic, but also changing seasons, the days of the week and even different times of day;
- Design pathways and traffic flows that are clear and fluid for all;
- Ensure harmonious co-existence of various user groups with respect to the multiple functions of the library space;
- Create pleasant, varied moods in all areas of the library;
- Prolong the useful life of new facilities by emphasizing sustainable resources and quality manufacturing.
Step 1: Decide where to act
Following consultations with boroughs and a summary needs analysis in 2021, three “test” libraries were selected. For the purposes of the project, libraries that had no major investments planned over the short term (e.g., renovation or expansion) were preferred, and a variety of needs was considered to ensure that all principles would be explored and that the libraries were well distributed geographically across the city.
- Cartierville Library (borough of Ahuntsic-Cartierville);
- Saint-Pierre Library (borough of Lachine);
- Langelier Library (borough of Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve).
A multidisciplinary team including service design experts was assigned to analyze the user pathways and experiences (users being visitors, employees, etc.) along with the layout of spaces in these libraries, to more thoroughly diagnose the needs and identify opportunities for action.
Step 2: Envision and test solution avenues
Ideation workshops with managers and staff in the libraries concerned helped generate possible solution based on the needs diagnosed. Some of these potential solutions were tested via light prototyping and then deployed in the libraries for assessing in a real-use context. Three possible solutions were experimented with:
- Addition of furniture enabling temporary reconfiguration of a part of the library during the space of a day, so as to improve flexibility and functionality;
- Inversion of two areas of the library, allowing for a more optimal configuration of activities and improved co-existence of users;
- Installation of wayfinding signage to better identify the services available in the space and help users get around by themselves.
The prototypes were evaluated by observation as well as via questionnaires provided to users. This prototyping step provided concrete examples allowing exploration of a range of possible solutions, how they complemented each other, and their impact on the space. The teams from each library then reframed or clarified their needs to pave the way for design of lasting solutions, which were then incorporated into a set of specifications.
Step 3: Plan and execute sustainable actions
The Bureau du design provided coaching as well as financial support to the three participating boroughs for the implementation of permanent or semi-permanent solutions in their libraries. The project budget was $100,000 per library, which included the fees for professional services by three emerging design and architecture teams based in Montréal.
Explore the three projects here:
Step 4: Assess and share learnings
Work is now complete in all three libraries. The next step is to assess the impact of the Biblio.Tests initiative and actions with stakeholders. Learnings will be shared in spring 2024 to serve as inspiration for and facilitate implementation of similar solutions in other municipal libraries and culture facilities.