Thursday, 10 March 2011

Library design - a crash course

The most recent trainee trip took place on Tuesday and we were shown round Fitzwilliam and Murray Edwards College libraries.  The trainee trips are becoming more themed with this afternoon addressing the issue of library design and planning.  (This leaves me with the task of coming up with a suitably interesting theme and talk for the John's visit in April!)
Fitzwilliam Library entrance from Architects' website
So, this tour worked particularly well since we started with a tour of where the Fitzwilliam library used to be followed by a tour of the one year-old purpose-built library.  The difference between the two was staggering.  The librarian talked us through some of the issues she had faced during the building projects from the architects' unrealistic plans for student workspace to the colour scheme of the soft-furnishings.  Another issue, which I had never considered, was the variety of working environments required for students.  Some like to workk facing a wall, others like a view, others like to be able to see what is going in other parts of the library.  Fitzwilliam have some particularly amazing desks in the reading tower, which have wonderful views out across Cambridge - I would have loved to have worked somewhere like that at university!

Reader tower from Architects' website
This made me think a lot about aspects of libraries, of which the consumer may not be aware but subconsciously make a lot of difference to how the library is received.  It was heartening to see that, although the library has RFID and is self-issue, there is still an issue desk at the entrance which is manned constantly during staffed hours and the librarian makes a conscious effort to engage with the students.  The implementation of self-issue can sometimes be to the detriment of librarian-student relationships but here this was not the case.  I hope that when John's switches to self-issue in 2012 it will keep up the staff-student interaction.

The next visit on the tour was Murray Edwards College Library, which is in a Grade 2* listed building.  This had quite a different feel with its cavernous design and copious concrete.  The librarian here gave us the task of evaluating the library and coming up with what we thought was not welcoming or helpful to students and how we thought that it could be improved.  The college is planning a refurbishment of the library and it was very interesting to discuss in a group what we thought could be changed and how we could address the issues which arise with such changes.  I think that the alterations will make the impact of the library much better and provide a more natural flow round the library.

Main Library floors from Catalog
The afternoon was very helpful in getting us to think about aspects of librarianship which we normally take for granted and encourage us to 'think outside the box' about library design.

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