Some very cool new ideas for helping libraries to re-think their design of spaces were presented today. What totally appealed was the scalability of some of the ideas. The bare minimum for a low intensity work space was brilliant. We only need a lamp and a cushion and we're there. The high intensity option would be pretty impossible where I work, but I can see shades of grey and I get the point. I loved the idea that we need spaces which can be flexibly arranged so that more people can easily be packed in during exam revision time.
I especially liked the use of terms like primary, secondary and tertiary to describe types of work. Despite my query at the presentation about the impact of disciplines on the space designs, I can really see how this classification is pertinent to all subjects.
So there are several things that I wonder about. Given the size and complexity of the project it was going to be impossible to include other things alongside the space research, but I wonder how 'teaching and learning', the invisible library user and 'time' fit into all of this.
1. Teaching and Learning
Do subject librarians know enough about how their academics teach which impacts how their students study and learn, to then be able to translate that into relevant designs for space in their libraries. In Cambridge, I guess that we might. So I know that the Cambridge English degree is all about practical criticism; it's all about close reading of primary texts and an enormous part of the fresher induction is that teachers want to know ASAP what the student's 'voice' is - right from the start. What do THEY think?! Contrast that to my dim memories of a social science subject where theories had to be understood and learnt and applied in the right context - I don't suppose that it is massively different now. Academic teaching style in Cambridge differs - in English the 'singleton' supervision is much desired and fought for by college teachers as essential. For engineers or geographers, small groups are the norm. Do these types of things impact HOW someone studies and learns? What paraphernalia they need? Or do study needs ride above the wave of teaching differences? How should we be designing teaching spaces in libraries? The project definitely gives a nod towards how expertise is shared by library staff, though the glass box consultation room feels a bit too much 'on show'. I think that I would have to retreat to my relationship management mantra on this and say that library staff can teach 'on the hoof' wherever they are, but that it is knowing the user that is really important to enable that to happen. But many of us would advocate that some type of defined 'teaching space' is helpful.
2. Which brings me to a second point expressed by the project team themselves. What about all those students who don't use any library space that we think they could or should or might? Does it matter if they don't? Are we in danger of designing for those who are already IN the library at the expense of those who are not? A crucial bit of UX work at EFL by Helen Murphy showed that one group of students come and use the library to gather resources, but will never write an essay there. They infinitely prefer their college room for this task. Is this a problem? No. Should our designs think about them? Yes - probably. They use the library to borrow books and that's ok? Does this justify the intense focus on study space in libraries by the project. Perhaps all we need is a 'landing zone' and all the collections easily available? Or perhaps we can just send all the items a user wants to their room and save them the trouble of needing any library space at all? I'm definitely not advocating one or the other, but designing library space must also always be about designing space for this type of functional activity.
3. Finally a third point - one which might change the use of the study spaces for all sorts of reasons, and that is 'time'. In Cambridge we are woefully behind the HE library trend and for the most part do not provide access 24/7 (exception are some colleges, and a few faculties/departments with swipe card access for a few), and not on Sundays, and certainly not year round! SO my question is (and that is all it is, I have no solutions) is what would happen to the use of study spaces if they were available 24/7, or on Sundays, or...or....Anecdotal impressions from Cambridge Colleges are that without the 'invigilator' there, noise levels go up, rules get broken etc. Some people probably leave, others might arrive looking for a different type of working space. When so many of our students spend the wee small hours finishing that weekly essay, what would change if they did this in a library space? Would they come at all? I don't know. But I do wonder if 'time' should be included in a project looking at how people use space.
I am amazed at how much data was gathered and analysed in the project about space. I can't imagine why anyone would ignore the findings and the design opportunities. It would be wonderful if equal attention were given to the aspects described above - then I would challenage anyone to suggest a more robust and useful template/model for future library design.