Over the last several years, the Brooklyn Public Library has invested considerable time and resources in strengthening and expanding the wide array of public programs offered. All but a handful of BPL’s branches were built decades ago in response to a very different public service model and finding spaces that can accommodate the diverse variety of programs held at the library is a major challenge.
BPL sought to find a creative and cost-effective way to better utilize its under-resourced community rooms in order to increase the number and quality of public programs at its branches and promote greater patron engagement and collaborative, hands-on learning. After a series of interviews with BPL staff and a program data review, SITU Studio, an architectural and design firm, developed a matrix of common programs types and the functional elements required by each program. This ranged from seating, display, and storage space, to lighting and power. SITU then designed a “kit of parts” that addressed all these requirements, using common building blocks to maximize flexibility and efficiency. A low cabinet, for example, can be used not only as lockable storage space, but also as extra seating. This same piece, when incorporated with another frame, becomes a media cabinet. A rolling whiteboard panel can also serve as a room divider, and with one side as felt, be used for pinning up displays and provide acoustic dampening. A ceiling grid allows for a curtain, displays, A/V equipment and more to be attached or taken down as needed without damage to the walls, while electrical surface conduits and retractable cables provide power without extensive electrical work.
After refining the design of the kit and the materials to be used, SITU Studio will fabricate the custom elements and install the pilot kit in spring 2018. Once a thorough testing of the pilot kit is complete, SITU will deliver the kit of parts “catalog” to BPL—detailing the design, dimensions, functionality, and cost of the full kit of parts and how they fit together to support different program types. In the future, BPL hopes to utilize the kit of parts in other branches to maximize the flexibility of spaces and better adapt to the changing needs and interests of Brooklyn’s diverse communities.