Ingenuity at a Time of Need: Library Trends to Watch in 2021

By: Nikki Wildman, RA, LEED AP BD+C // Associate Principal, Project Manager and Kathryn Taylor, ASID, IIDA, LEED AP // Principal, Owner Kathryn Taylor Design, LLC

When it comes to serving patrons and responding to changes in culture, libraries are endlessly creative. That was never more true than last year. Here are just three ways libraries innovated in the face of the COVID crisis. Their ingenuity inspires us.


Libraries are remarkably resilient places. Despite the existential threats of frequent budget challenges, ubiquitous Internet resources, and the reality-shaking Covid crisis, libraries continue to innovate, surprise, and prove their necessity as a lifeline for their communities. Thanks to resourcefulness and quick thinking , libraries have proven yet again they’re an essential source of stability and lifelong learning for all people, regardless of age, education, ethnicity, gender, language, income, physical limitations, or geographic barriers.

Here’s a look at three library design trends to watch for in 2021, based on the many ways we’ve seen our library clients stay connected with patrons.


Licking County Library Broad Street location pick-up and drop-off lockers


1. It’s All About the Access

When the Covid crisis suddenly forced libraries to close their doors to the public, it was a stark reminder of just how much communities depend on them for learning, job hunting, and so much more. Fortunately, libraries are staffed with endlessly creative professionals who embraced the challenge and quickly came up with innovative ways to meet public need.

Many libraries adjusted access to circulation to walk-up or curbside pickup, and others created clever ways for patrons to access computers, printing, and homework help. Wood County District Public Library in northern Ohio and New Castle County Libraries, Delaware , maintained carefully controlled, limited access to their resources, including scheduling computer use in one-hour increments (with spaced out desks and chairs), while Columbus Metropolitan Libraries in Columbus, Ohio, extended Wi-Fi access to parking lots and made printing services available for walk-up or curbside pickup. Support and tutoring for job seekers and students transitioned to online chat and extended phone service.

What to look for this year:

Continued creative ideas for outreach services; in addition to walk-ups, curbside-services, and bookmobiles, we anticipate automated lockers for pick up and drop off in convenient locations like strip malls and grocery stores.


Homework help provided by the Columbus Metropolitan Library


2. Virtual Programming Is Growing

Library programming has transformed over the last year, transitioning from mainly in-person experiences to virtual. As a result, many libraries have dedicated a larger share of their operating budgets to online alternatives. Seemingly overnight, libraries have invested in portable studio equipment to allow their staff to create better virtual programs.

While in-person programming provides a personal, hands-on experience, some of the more successful virtual events include a combination of live presentations and program kits that can be picked up or delivered ahead of time, so the attendees can participate alongside the presenter. An unintended benefit to online programming is that libraries are reaching larger audiences. People who previously could not participate in in-person programming due to travel, health conditions, etc., now are able to participate.

What to look for this year:

Dual purpose spaces. Multi-purpose rooms have long been a high-value space in public libraries, whether hosting large public and private events, or flexing into smaller rooms for more intimate sessions. These spaces have proven invaluable during 2020 and into 2021, providing physically distanced work areas, serving as assembly areas for virtual learning kits — even as vaccination sites. Dual-purpose spaces located on exterior walls can be combined with operable walls to add outdoor programming and host larger events.


Licking County Library // Newark, Ohio


3. Bridging the Digital Divide

The need for digital access at home became even more apparent in 2020, with more students and teachers engaged in remote education or a hybrid model of remote and in-person learning. Some public library systems are lending tablets, laptops, and internet hotspots. Others are partnering with providers of low-cost PCs and mobile devices, such as the non-profit PCs for People, that serve eligible households and businesses.

What to look for this year:

More storage. As libraries grow their distribution of education kits and sharing of tablets and laptops, special consideration will need to be given for location of storage and ease of access to these spaces.


Special thanks to the following clients for taking time to talk with DesignGroup and Kathryn Taylor Design about how their libraries continue to serve their communities during the pandemic:



Nikki Wildman, RA, LEED AP BD+C // Associate Principal, Project Manager

Nikki’s a proven team member at DesignGroup, leading and managing the delivery of projects for clients such as Leading EDJE, Franklin Park Conservatory and Cedarville University. Her insights, ideas and experience have been and will continue to be critical to the higher education, commercial and civic/cultural projects in which she services. She has also served in leadership roles for USGBC Central Ohio and DesignColumbus.

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Kathryn Taylor, ASID, IIDA, LEED AP // Principal, Owner Kathryn Taylor Design, LLC

Kathryn’s focus encompasses all phases of planning and innovative interior design with a wide breadth of experience in libraries, academic campuses and museum projects. Her specialty is in the programming, stakeholder engagement and design of collaborative spaces that inspire a culture of creativity. She has completed a broad range of project types and sizes serving as lead planner/ interior designer on many national award winning projects.