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Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Resource Guide Collection

MPLCP Planning & Design: Building Program

Guiding principles

A library building program is like a guidebook. This document serves as a set of instructions from the library director, trustees, and staff to the architects. Throughout the project, the program serves as a yardstick to determine how true the design remains to that vision.

What, not how

The building program must concentrate on telling the architect what must be done, not how it should be done! The major contribution made by the architect to the project is skill in design. Therefore, the program should deal in concepts, information and data. No attempt should be made to draw floor plans or to use other devices to force a particular solution on the design professionals.

--From Planning Library Buildings and Facilities: From Concept to Completion (1989), p. 44, by Raymond M. Holt

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. To qualify for an MPLCP Construction grant, the document must be approved by the MBLC as part of the application process. 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 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 20-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.

The director will require assistance from staff members, trustees and MBLC staff to produce an effective document. Assembling a hard-working and willing team is critical.