Stacks, Surveys, and Socialization: Creating Collaborative Spaces in Libraries

Working in an industry for over 30 years allows you an insight into countless trends as they come and go, from the fall of the cubicle to the bittersweet taste the phrase "budget cut" leaves in your mouth.

Currently, the library industry is on the tail end of the “collaborative” space trend, or changing spaces to increase room for group activities while allowing the space to evolve with the library itself. We have learned during this paradigm shift that creating these spaces can be challenging due to budget cuts or funding losses, but with careful planning and inquisitive student community outreach, collaborative spaces are possible to achieve.

Survey Says…?

While the collaborative space trend is highlight of the corporate arena, many universities are taking note to ensure their students receive plenty of opportunities to engage with one another. Modern engineering programs, for example, are putting greater focus on team efforts and increasing the potential for chance encounters that often spur the most significant breakthroughs (HoK, 2014). These goals are met and a successful collaborative area results by placing more emphasis on the importance of socialization and ensuring students feel comfortable interacting with each other in the space.

Step One

The first step to creating a successful collaborative space is to understand how your students will use the area and its amenities.

  • Will they come together as study groups?
  • Do they desire more group access to technologies?
  • Would they like a space that’s versatile for programming at night but conducive to university courses during the day?

The Importance of Metrics

We discussed the importance of metrics with Dr. David Evans, Dean and Assistant Vice President of Library Services at Kennesaw State University. His library performed a number of student surveys to get an intimate understanding of what users wanted.

They found that students desired more space to engage in group activities with more accessible technology resources. Dr. Evans and staff presented their findings, gaining the funding they needed for the renovation.

So Many Stacks, So Little Budget

The second step in creating a well-rounded collaborative space is taking on the task of identifying the best space within your existing building for these group areas. With budgets being cut further and further each year in public and private universities alike, one of the best solutions for academic libraries is to remove underutilized book stacks to create the space necessary for new group collaboration amenities.

A number of our clients in recent years have worked within the confines of their already existing space and budgets to bring collaborative furniture and technologies to students by removing underutilized book stacks, and their success has been phenomenal. With a majority of materials being available in e-book or digital formats, underutilized physical materials simply take up valuable real estate students could use otherwise.

At University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Dean of Libraries Terri Switzer and her staff found that their 25 group study rooms were consistently filled from day to night, leaving many students without group study areas. This led Teri and her staff to commit to alleviating the resulting congestion of students studying in groups outside of the rooms by providing them more space to engage in groups.

The project began with a detailed look into what materials students were using and what were left to gather dust. The UCCS staff found that a number of their legacy bound journals, now available online, were simply sitting on the shelf.

After recycling 80-90% of these physical journals, ensuring they were available in a digital database for students, UCCS was able to provide students with small group collaborative areas in the newly opened space with banquettes and tables. The University of La Verne in California went through a similar process to increase space for students to engage in collaborative projects.

Socialization in the Digital Age

During an interview with Denelle Wrightson, Interior Library Architect at Dewberry Inc, Denelle provided advice for creating balance in your space when collaborative group space is slim. She says creating a social atmosphere is important in libraries as we are becoming increasingly over-programmed in almost every aspect of our lives.

Students crave social environments and the opportunity to connect with others, meaning that without a proper balance of social collaborative elements in a library space, student productivity can easily suffer.

Denelle also discussed the importance of adaptability as the interests and needs of your students change. By carefully planning and updating your library, you can maintain design flexibility for years to come. This can be as simple as placing more permanent elements along the perimeter of your building, leaving space in the middle for the years of renovations to come, or utilizing mobile elements, such as furniture that is lightweight or on casters. By providing room to grow, academic libraries can maintain flexibility to evolve and provide a variety of solutions for students, whether they be furniture solutions or complete space renovations.

Get Creative, Do Your Homework, and Leave Room to Grow

“Collaboration” is a term that has been on the tongue of every library director in the nation in the past few years, but it may feel worn out. There is no denying that creating balance between collaborative spaces and individual study spaces is vital to university students and their institution of choice.

The best way to create the group study and project areas that are right for your students is to directly involve them in the project. Listening to their feedback, programming surveys about library needs, and performing research on physical materials can give key clues to how you as a member of the university faculty can provide students with the best amenities possible. Additionally, creating collaborative space does not necessitate a complete library overhaul.

As Kennesaw State University, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, The University of La Verne, and countless other prestigious universities across the country show us, much can be achieved by using your imagination and creative instincts to turn a once underutilized space into a boisterous bustling area of student collaboration and social engagement.

[To read the entire Stacks Removal Series, visit the AGATI blog: topic/stacks-series ]

About the Author
Lizzie Hoffman is a blogger/social media marketer at AGATI Furniture. She earned her B.A. in International Film & Media studies from Loyola University Chicago, and is now based in the city. Learn more about AGATI Furniture at, or email Lizzie at