What's New in Library Furniture

There are two fundamental changes occurring on the campus library scene. The first is technology: Laptops are in; wireless is in. The second is that going to college is no longer an individual effort; it is about collaboration and group projects. Both of these changes are causing furniture to undergo a design transition.


Just 10 years ago, library furniture was undergoing design changes in order to accommodate computer workstations as the Internet took off, card catalogs moved to the Web and patrons began searching databases on their own. Tables needed to accommodate computers, monitors and keyboards and — most importantly — have an effective wire management system.

“At that time, there was no furniture you could buy off the shelf that truly addressed desktop computer stations,” says Steven Forman, AIA, senior associate with New York-based Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects LLC.“You could buy a reader table but nothing that would deal with wire management or the whole desktop environment.”

Now, of course, library furniture manufacturers’ catalogs are jam packed with furniture that accommodates technology.

The irony is that, at the same time, technology is shifting toward wireless. Cable management systems are becoming obsolete. Students bring and plug in their own laptops, so tables don’t have to accommodate bulky computer systems.“With wireless, you no longer need data connections in most locations, and it does not limit the patron from using a specific area like we used to have to use a carrel,” says Chris Frantz, marketing manager with McElhattan, Pa.-based Brodart Co., Contract Furniture Division.

Library furniture manufacturers are back at the drawing board, coming up with designs that are ideal for lounge-type environments, with seating and tables that allow students to plug in and spread out. And now that furniture no longer needs to be placed directly over or near power and data sources, it’s becoming more mobile and flexible.


“Students are no longer going to college as one person,” says Frantz. “Our research shows that it’s now a group environment. There’s a lot of project collaboration.”

Forman concurs, noting that Generation Y has been taught to work as teams and small groups, rather than independently. “When they do a research project, there’s usually three to eight people involved,” he notes. As a result, Forman is seeing libraries include more and more study rooms, where small groups can spread out and complete their projects. These rooms need to be stocked with comfortable seating and work tables.

In addition, Generation Y is used to putting their feet up on furniture. They’re used to reclining in a lounge chair or sofa. They’re used to eating and drinking with books and computers nearby.

As with changes caused by technology, collaboration requires flexibility: furniture that can be changed and moved around. It requires large reader table areas for students to spread out and work in groups. Yet, librarians also recognize the need to choose typical private reader carrels for traditional thinkers. Most of all, says Forman, forward-thinking librarians want durable, comfortable furniture.

Proving It

Groupe Lacasse, St. Pie, Quebec, is already on board with the changes. The firm manufactures an entire educational furniture collection, including bookcases and circulation desks. Sturdy construction, comfortable surfaces, spacious storage, soft yet indestructible edges and a rainbow of colors are just some of their design features.

Brodart, too, is in the loop. “We’ve designed a kind of carrel that gives students a laptop area with a plug for a wireless environment,” says Frantz. “If they slide to one side it’s private and, if they slide to the other side, it can be a group environment.”

Mobile Storage Unit Saves Space, Speeds Access

Utah State University in Logan, like many other colleges and universities, is challenged with a growing collection of books and a finite amount of space. Though new, the university’s Merrill-Cazier Library is replacement space, meaning that the new structure needed to fit within the same footprint as the old.

As additional square footage was not a possibility, administrators considered both off-campus storage and dense storage for accommodating its collection. They selected dense storage, which would keep the collection on campus and conveniently accessible to library users.

Specifically, administrators chose an 80-ft.-tall Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS) from Columbus, Ohio-based Daifuku America. The system is helping administrators reclaim floor space and provide automated access to its collection of more than 1.5 million books and journals.

“Rather than a traditional AS/RS bin system, where sorting would be defined by size, Daifuku’s engineers worked with us to develop a customized bookcase system that enables us to shelve volumes according to Library of Congress classifications,” says Dr. Linda Wolcott, Utah State’s vice provost for Libraries and Instructional Support. “This system is helping us by preserving the ability to browse by topic — an ability that’s highly valued.”

With the new system, titles are queried from a desktop computer within the library, availability is checked and then a request made for the book to be retrieved from the five-story warehouse located within the library. One of three automated cranes travels across vertical and horizontal tracks, pulls the book and delivers it to the circulation area. When the installation is complete this fall, the entire process is expected to take as little as two minutes.

More specifically, the AS/RS offers minimal noise; flexible, modular designs that enabling the system to be customized to any space or layout; scalability to keep pace with growth; and a sturdy weight capacity, capable of carrying up to 1,000 pounds.