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Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Resource Guide Collection

MPLCP Library Building Programs: Working with an Architect

It's complicated

Working with an architect can be a lot of fun, but it can be challenging as well. Communication is critical, and you should take written notes of all decisions (even small ones). Architects are rigorously trained to think in spatial and visual terms; their understanding of a situation may not be the same as yours, and they may use jargon or turns of phrase that you don't understand. Ask for clarification, don't let them gloss over details, and never assume anything.

When Worlds Collide
For example, the word circulation has a specific meaning to both librarians and architects, but the meaning is not the same; it's one of the places where the jargon of two worlds conflict. Librarians mean the movement of library materials around the system (check in, checkout, etc). Architects, on the other hand, mean walking around spaces in a building, like corridors and stairways. It gets especially confusing when you're talking about circulation within the Circulation Department.

Another of these words is program. To librarians, a program is a storytime, lecture series, or some other structured delivery of information. To architects, a program is the set of parameters that form the basis for a design project.

It's important to designate one person at the library (usually the Library Director) and one person at the architecture firm (usually the Principal or Project Architect) to be the primary points of contact. Don't allow a pattern of triangulated or circular communication to develop. That never ends well.

Musical Architects
You will start off spending a lot of time with the Principal Architect. Usually a partner in the firm, they will be heavily involved in the preliminary design and the beginning stages of Design Development. However, once the project is well into the Design Development phase, it's common practice that a different architect in the firm -- the Project Architect -- will take over the day-to-day work on the project. Don't feel abandoned; this is how the industry works unless you hire a very small firm or solo practitioner.


An architect must be registered to practice in Massachusetts in order to qualify to design a library building in the Commonwealth. To check, use the handy tool at the Division of Professional Licensure. Set the profession to "architect" and type in the person's name. You will get their licensure status as well as any disciplinary actions they have received.

Note that the letters "AIA" after someone's name are not an indication of their qualifications. This means that they are a member of the American Institute of Architects, a professional organization. This organization has "associate" members who are not licensed.

People who are registered in other states or countries are entitled to call themselves "architect," but they must be licensed in Massachusetts to serve as the primary architect on a library project in the state.