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Library space planning: a participatory action research approach

Mary M. Somerville (Auraria Library, University of Colorado, Denver, Colorado, USA)
Margaret Brown‐Sica (Auraria Library, University of Colorado, Denver, Colorado, USA)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 4 October 2011




Libraries required to accommodate new services within existing facilities can benefit from an inclusive planning approach which produces a design concept and project phases for repurposing space. In the process, organizational decision making can move from print‐centered to program‐driven through intention use of information to learn. This paper seeks to explore this issue.


Participatory action research (PAR) offers an action‐oriented and learning‐centered approach to (re)design of library facilities through an iterative plan‐act‐observe‐reflect cycle. Auraria Library's culminating charette illustrates the efficacy of PAR principles and practices for repurposing library facilities in response to changing user demands.


Over an 18‐month period, participatory action research activities fostered data collection and interpretation activities, preparatory to a two‐day design charette conducted with and for members of campus constituencies. In addition to clarifying design elements for project phases with estimated budgets, the inclusive inquiry processes initiated campus relationships essential to successful project implementation.

Research limitations/implications

This research study reports the latest findings in a series of North American implementation projects begun in 2003. The most ambitious to date, it involves library staff and campus stakeholders in inclusive library redesign processes.

Practical implications

Amidst dynamically changing internal and external circumstances, libraries can employ participatory action research principles and practices to use information to learn. The Auraria Library example illustrates the transferability of using inclusive information‐centered and learning‐focused approaches for organizational direction setting.

Social implications

The purpose of the action‐oriented and learning‐focused approach is to engage participants in using information to learn. Participatory action research is therefore intrinsically emancipatory.


A paucity of professional literature on participatory action research exists in the library and information science field. Therefore, this contribution both offers a promising approach for collaborative decision making and fills a gap in the professional knowledge base.



Somerville, M.M. and Brown‐Sica, M. (2011), "Library space planning: a participatory action research approach", The Electronic Library, Vol. 29 No. 5, pp. 669-681.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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