Libraries in a Digital World

The changing roles and design of library buildings

Aims of libraries in a digital world

Through a number of related investigations that have taken place in the City Lab, the project explores how – and in what ways – digitisation is changing the role of libraries and how their design might evolve in the future in response.

The project

Collectively this body of work discusses a number of interrelated facets involved in the architecture and design of library buildings. These include: the role of physical books within the library, how library programmes are diversifying to address the changing needs of 21st century patrons and reflect increasing complexity in society and culture, and the significance of the library building as part of the civic public realm. Libraries as a building type have a rich and distinctive history and this project contributes to discussion over how they will evolve in the future.

The outcomes of this ongoing project have been published in two research papers: “The Future of the Book and the Library Creatively Explored” in New Library World and “Libraries as Hybrid Buildings: New Forms and Complex Programmes” in The International Journal of the Book, and in two books chapters: “Presence, Permeability and Playfulness: Future Library Architecture in the Digital Era” in Digital Information Strategies – From Applications and Content to Libraries and People, and “The Influence of Digital Media on the Design of Libraries” in The End of Wisdom? The Future of Libraries in a Digital Age. Next year it will be presented at the Fifteenth International Conference on Books, Publishing and Libraries at Imperial College, London.

Collaboration through teaching informed research

Throughout this project reference is made to the work of undergraduate architecture students who have designed library projects. This collaboration between students and the researcher, Charlie Smith, is the outcome of a pioneering approach to the alignment of research and teaching in which student projects are used as a central part of research methodology.


This work is contributing to an ongoing debate, at both local and international levels, about the role of libraries in an increasingly digital society. This takes place at a time when many public libraries are facing reduced funding and closure.