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Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Resource Guide Collection

MPLCP Library Building Programs: Getting Started

Patience says:

A library building program demands a great deal of time: plan on fifty to eighty working hours to produce a coherent text and several revisions by all concerned. Ideally, the building program should be written by the library director, with input and review by staff and ongoing review by trustees. The trustees should formally adopt or approve the final Program.

What is a building program?

In the world of libraries, a program is a storytime, lecture series, or some other structured method of information delivery. In the world of architects, however, it has a very different meaning. For them, a program is a document outlining the parameters that form the basis for a design project.

A library building program is a document, based on data collected from the community, that serves as a guidebook or set of instructions from the library director, trustees and staff to the architect. The building program is also an excellent tool that can serve as the foundation for a PR and marketing campaign for your building project.

The planning portions of the library building program should be written without regard for or reference to the existing library facility. Pretend that the building was flattened by a tornado or burned to the ground and start from scratch. What library services does your community need?

The building program articulates the library’s vision of its future and serves as a set of instructions to the architect. The architect confirms program requirements through independent investigation, and then begins conceptualizing a building that answers the needs expressed. Throughout the project, the building program serves as a yardstick to determine how true the design remains to that vision.

A 30-year planning horizon must be used in developing the program requirements, and the building program must be approved by your library trustees, your municipal officials and by the MPLCP before hiring an OPM or an architect for the project.

Who should write it?

In order to qualify for the MBLC grant program, the Building Program document must be completed before the architect is selected.

There are good reasons for this. It's important for a library to determine their needs and goals before being influenced by any formal or aesthetic ideas. The program must shape the design, rather than the other way around. Architects are trained to be very visual/spatial thinkers, and most will approach a project from that perspective.

The library director should take the lead on development of the Library Building Program. Adequate time should be set aside or carved out of the director's regular duties by temporarily delegating or suspending other tasks. An independent consultant may be used, especially for the community engagement work but also to write the program, but the library director must lead the way.

The director will require assistance from staff members, trustees and MBLC Library Building Specialists to produce a good document. Assembling a good and willing team is critical.