Design Considerations for Libraries in the Wake of COVID-19
Updated: Feb 18
As more businesses and public spaces start to open their doors, our team continues to find suggestions on how to keep buildings operational. Libraries, on the other hand, have remained open, just not in a traditional manner.
Known historically for their stacks of books, libraries around the country have converted from their standard operations of checking out books and offering computer access to creating distant, digital education opportunities for their patrons.
According to the American Library Association, 98% of libraries were closed to the public upon the outbreak of coronavirus but maintained and expanded their digital presence in the meantime.
However, many still rely on the in-person offerings from a library, which gives access to education tools, meeting access, and for some, even a place to escape from the heat. Not all of these public centers are in proper condition to adjust to the challenges of the pandemic, due to deferred maintenance and adaptive renovations brought to light since the outbreak.
Some libraries, like the Coventry PEACE Campus in Cleveland Heights, may face shutdowns of up to a year or more if they’re unable to find funding for much-needed upgrades.
“The HVAC system serving the entire building is limping along and a full replacement would cost $110,000,” it’s stated in the Coventry PEACE Campus’s financial update, which is an incredible addition to the $300,000 the facility already pays in rent, per Cleveland.com.
Over our 37 years of operations at Tec Inc., we’ve completed over 100 library projects and are very familiar with the ins-and-outs of from behind the scenes at many local libraries. While every library is a little different, each with their own unique flourishes, we’ve crafted a few ideas that can help maintain safer in-person interaction in these spaces for the public.
While libraries aren’t always the tightest-packed spaces in terms of people, they have a lot of areas occupied by necessary equipment, which makes it even less conducive for air circulation when facing a high volume of occupants.
Certainly, our team recommends both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) guidance with regards to social distancing standards, but we’re sharing a few ideas from our own research and practice.
Managing Air Quality around the stacks
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been plentiful conversations about ways to improve air quality to all spaces and libraries are no different.
Adding air purifiers around the book stacks at libraries is an effective first step that helps keep fresh air in some of the more tightly-packed areas of the libraries. Brandon Sargent, PE, LEED AP explains, "This would typically involve ceiling paddle fans or strategically placed supply and exhaust diffusers for upper room UVC light to effectively and continually cleanse the space of airborne viruses."
Further, we recommend adding GUV lighting into the air ducts around the library, which uses powerful ultraviolet lighting to eliminate harmful particles from the circulated air. "This air quality improvement method is typically applied at the cooling coils and drain pans, and has the added benefit of maintaining HVAC system efficiency by preventing the development of mold and fungi that could clog the cooling coils at these locations," according to Mr. Sargent.
In conversations with American Libraries Magazine, it's recommended that this addition is a wise one for the air ducts themselves, but to be careful with the ultraviolet lighting near the stacks to ensure the books remain in good condition. Isolating the books for 14 days is still the best sanitation method, per the magazine.
Earlier this year, our own Senior Electrical Engineer and manager of our Pittsbugh office, Brandon Sargent, PE, LEED AP BD+C explained how GUV lighting can be used in buildings.
Expanding the library’s digital capabilities even further
Making modifications for in-person resource usage will be a crucial factor for libraries going forward. However, a libraries’ ability to expand their digital resources mitigates human foot traffic while augmenting their overall capabilities.
In order to make sure libraries have a robust digital presence, it would be wise to upgrade some of the building’s technological infrastructure. Reassuring the integrity of a library’s technology helps minimize downtime while allowing for an expanded number of online resources.
For example, libraries may house visual readings for children, add an expanded number of research materials online, and even share access to full-length films all options already available to through the Cleveland Public Library.
In general, allowing more resources to live online and be accessible to patrons that would usually require in-person interactions helps reduce the number of people coming through the front door every day, thus reducing the risk for the spread of disease.
Reaching out to an Engineer for Review
In order to get the best understanding of each library’s individual needs, it’s wise to have an electrical and/or mechanical engineer to review the building’s infrastructure. This allows an engineer to make worthwhile recommendations that prevent owners from investing in the wrong materials before it’s too late.
Some of the engineers at Tec Inc. have been working on library projects since the first day of their careers, giving our team unique expertise in these spaces, with over 100 library projects completed.
Take our founder and CEO Terry Kilbourne, for example, who served on the Mentor Public Library Board of Trustees for years as a trusted advisor for their space, sharing his expertise as an electrical engineer and lighting designer.
Additionally, Timothy Pool, PE, RCDD, Executive Vice President at our firm, has more than 75 library projects under his belt over his 30 years of service to the firm.
Executive Vice President
Tim Pool is known for his genuine desire to make Tec Inc. a great place to work. He regularly shares his knowledge with younger staff and walks the walk of an engineer who gives back to our industry and community. Now executive vice president and our director of engineering, Tim runs an internal committee at Tec Inc. dedicated to the future of design; one of our differentiators. Tim is not only passionate about engineering, he also understands the importance of developing meaningful relationships — a value we live by at Tec Inc.