Upper St. Clair Public Library Creates Patron-Centered Browsing Neighborhoods with Opening the Book Library Furniture

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Library director partners with Opening the Book to deconstruct Dewey Decimal classifications and develop friendly topic-based book browsing neighborhoods for patrons to enjoy and explore.

Library Furniture

Helen Palascak, Library Director of Upper St. Clair Township Library

Many thanks to everyone for all the work you have put into this project which the Township Commissioners have now fully approved. Opening the Book, your design was the critical piece!

Upper St. Clair Township lies 10 miles south of Pittsburgh and boasts a large, well-used and highly regarded library. However, Library Director Helen Palascak is the kind of librarian who never becomes complacent, despite running a successful library. Instead, she is forward-thinking and constantly striving to bring new and improved services to library patrons.

Helen realized that the physical messages the library environment was sending to patrons did not reflect the priorities and values of the service. In particular, the non-fiction collection was contained on very high shelving organized in straight rows with narrow spaces between. The effect was rather intimidating. Helen wanted to explore how smaller collections could draw people in and create spaces more conducive to exploration and creative learning. Working with her staff team, Helen set about deconstructing Dewey. How could a library create more friendly non-fiction neighborhoods of related subjects? Grouped around themes such as Parenting, Create It, DIY Home, Cooking or Health & Fitness, neighborhoods can hold materials from multiple Dewey sections, collecting in one area materials readers might reasonably expect to find together.

Helen first came across Opening The Book's Library Furniture when she attended a presentation by Opening the Book’s Director, Rachel Van Riel, at a Public Library Association conference in Philadelphia in 2013. Helen was immediately drawn to Opening the Book’s philosophy which advocates rethinking how libraries are physically presented and organized to ensure they reflect the needs of the modern library patron. At the conference Helen purchased a copy of Rachel’s book The Reader-friendly Library Service and ever since has used this as a point of reference for planning and rethinking the delivery of Upper St. Clair library services.

Dull rows of shelving are banished and replaced by an open, flowing Discovery Layout which draws patrons though the space and bring books into the eyeline at every turn. Opening the Book has studied the way people move through library spaces, which way they turn, how far they go, where they stop. With a unique bank of research carried out in libraries in different countries, including thousands of observations of patron behaviors and a database of more than 50,000 library patron interviews this knowledge is applied in all Opening the Book library designs to ensure there are no dead spaces or tight corridors of shelving. Instead the layouts offer smooth organic flows which entice people forward with a continuous sense of exploration and discovery.

Upper St. Clair chose the unique Performance Library shelving system in which bookcases are placed together to make unique propeller shapes and curves which bring energy and dynamism to the floor layout. These shapes are also perfect for defining each browsing neighborhood and zoning spaces for different activities right within the non-fiction room.

The non-fiction area at Upper St. Clair will be manufactured by Brodart and fully installed by Reed Associates, Inc. in June 2017. The partnership between Opening the Book, Brodart and Reed Associates has given the library access to brand-new concepts and furniture designs, high-quality manufacturing and local on-the-ground detailed project management and installation support.

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