The Library as a Third Place: Designing to Encourage Gathering and Place Attachment

Presented by: Dr. Lisa Waxman, Amy Huber, Yelena McLane

Introduction The new student arriving on a college campus often feels a bit lost and overwhelmed. What can a university do to help that student engage? In what spaces might they forge new connections? Although many campuses are welcoming, the library presents an obvious opportunity for connecting with the campus community. This presentation will present a study on the characteristics of library spaces that help students engage. Background With the digitization of information over the last twenty years, libraries have reinvented themselves as places where learners connect (Holland, 2015). For many university libraries, that transformation has meant creating spaces in which students can engage with others as part of a learning community (Bilandzic & Johnson, 2013). These opportunities for connection have made the library an ideal third place, a place for interaction outside of class and work (Waxman, Clemons, Banning, & McKelfresh, 2007). The user experience in learning environments is positively impacted when spaces are physically and psychologically comfortable, they promote a sense of well-being for users (Herman Miller, 2009), and foster student collaboration (Tural, Read, & Lee, 2016). Method The study took place on the campus of a large research university in the Southeastern United States in 2015. The site was the first floor of the largest university library, located in the heart of campus. Methodology included 200 hours of observations and interviews with 50 users to gather feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the design. Findings All of the data was coded and themes identified. They key design recommendations include: • Design with considerations for both daytime and evening users. Daytime users were more likely to stop in for 45 minutes between classes, while evening users visited an average of two hours. Daytime users focused on passing time, getting a beverage, playing on phones, or looking over class notes. Evening users were more likely to spend time studying or collaborating. • Design with consideration for individuals and groups. During the daytime, 64% of students came to the library alone, 24% with one other person, and 12% with two or more other people. The evening visitors were much more likely to arrive in groups of 2-3. Thus, designers should consider flexible furniture options that work well for one person and for groups. The study found it was common for booth seating, sofas, or collaboration spaces designed for groups to be occupied only by a single individual, thus wasting space. • Provide a variety of seating types that provide prospect (the ability to see others) and refuge (shelter). The first seats students filled were those along the wall, booth seating, or seating that provided shelter in some way. • Provide spaces that accommodate quiet, focused work, but also spaces that enhance collaboration. Provide spaces for quiet concentration for heads down work and more lounge-like interactive spaces for collaborative work. Acoustical considerations should be made to keep noise out of the more quiet spaces. • Select finishes that will accommodate heavy use and high traffic. Students appreciated soft and comfortable seating, but finishes must also stand up to heavy use. • Wayfinding should be clear. Install signage that is clear and informative. Flooring finish changes and color changes can also help in wayfinding and designating area. A clear sense of entry and a circulation desk that delineates the services provided was also requested. • Access to view and natural light. This attribute was frequently listed as missing from the library that was studied. Designers should take care to ensure spaces have views and natural light, as studies have shown that they enhance well-being. Conclusion By better understanding the design features that accommodate students on the college campus, designers will be better informed when designing similar spaces.


  • Bilandzic, M. & Johnson, D. (2013). Hybrid placemaking in the library: Designing digital technology to enhance users’ on-site experience. The Australian Library Journal, 62(4), p. 258-271.
  • Herman Miller (2009). Adaptable spaces and their impact on learning research summary. Herman Miller Research Summary, p. 1-9.
  • Holland, B. (2015). 21st century libraries: The learning commons. Edutopia, retrieved October 5, 2016 from
  • Tural, E., Read, M., & Lee, S. (2016, March). Design for collaborative learning: The shifting ground of campus building design. Proceedings of the Interior Design Educators Council Conference. Chicago, IL: Interior Design Educators Council. Retrieved from
  • Waxman, L., Clemons, S., Banning, J., and McKelfresh, D. (2007). The library as place: Providing opportunities for socialization, relaxation, and restoration. New Library World, 108(9/10), p. 424-434.
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