University Libraries Investing in Redesign, Embracing Evolving Roles

Like almost all education institutions, the university library is undergoing a number of changes thanks to technology and the internet. While some experts bemoan the developments and believe that it may signal the end of the university library as we know it, Claire Shaw of The Guardian points out that just because libraries will no longer exist as they have doesn’t mean that they will not a serve useful purpose in the coming years.

Universities themselves seem to be optimistic, with many having invested in new library facilities to meet the infrastructure and operational needs of technology. Diane Job, who leads library services at the University of Birmingham and is currently charged with a redesign that will cost the school nearly £60 million, believes that the new facilities will make it easier for libraries to be ready to take up their evolving duties.

‘Future proofing’ the library building was one of the main criteria for the design. The installation of extra-strong floors and well-placed lighting will provide the flexibility and versatility that the library will need for the future, insists Job.

“We know that the changes will come, and what we are trying to do is look at the building and predict what some of those changes might be and build that in,” she says. “Our fundamental principle is putting people at the heart of the library – whereas libraries from a bygone age put the collections as the most important thing.”

This drive to refurbish, redesign and rebuild university libraries plays into a wider shift occurring in higher education – the change in the way students, researchers and academics are accessing and studying information.

In all these cases form follows function, as the main driver behind the renovations is pedagogy, according to Ann Rossiter, the director of the Society of College, National and University Libraries. However, the question of whether aesthetics actually aid in learning is far from settled.

According to David Lindley, executive director of Designing Libraries, an increase in usage does follow renovation, sometimes by as much as 50%. Shaw writes that a main contributor to this is the expanded usage space.

Les Watson, university library consultant and former pro vice-chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University, believes how we feel in a certain environment has a significant part to play in the way we work: “It is clear to me that the spaces in which we work and learn have both psychological and emotional impacts on use and also that learning is affected by our emotions and psyche so it seems feasible that better space can enhance learning performance. But there is no real evidence about what works and why so far.”

Watson continues: “Students are undoubtedly affected by inspirational university buildings and libraries in particular have a great influence on the reputation of the university and the ability of the university to attract prospective students. This is especially so in the era of annual national student satisfaction surveys.”