Wednesday, March 30, 2011

University of Queensland Librarian on Change in Library Design and Role

Greetings from the 2nd Annual Learning Commons Development and Design Forum, Brisbane. The first speaker was Keith Webster, Librarian, University of Queensland.

He started with the good old days where academic libraries were for scholars. The students were only admitted under sufferance and provided they were silent. He used the 1970s UQ biological library as an example of the old style, where the building was there to house the collection (the building massing reminded me of a mainframe computer). Libraries of the 1980s had desks to help students access CD-ROMs. In the late 1990s a variety of learning spaces were added for group and individual use. Keith commented that the present has connected leaning experiences, where the library information can be accessed on-line from anywhere.

Keith suggested the campus map should be relabeled to indicate the type of learning experience for each space. He cataloged the educational changes, continuous assessment, national standards and access beyond the campus. He commented that researchers tend not to come into the library, so the library services must go out to them.

Keith commented that university students today will have grown up with computers and the Internet. He claimed that there is evidence they therefore use the technology differently. But I am not sure today's student are any better at using technology for a course than previous students. Keith commented that today's students will expect to take notes on an iPad not paper. But I don't think they will be any better at taking good notes that past generations.

Keith mentioned research from London on Immersive technology and Information Behavior of students. Unfortunately I could not read the details on the slide (or any of the slides) as the text was too small. He then showed a graph of the decline in book borrowing at libraries and but another showing increasing number of visitors (I could see the lines on the graph, but not the scale).

Keith commented that e-publishing is changing the research role of libraries. By 2014 China is predicted to be the largest source of peer reviewed academic articles (according to the BBC). Libraries now buy bundles of journals. It seems to me dumb that librarians do this. It would be simpler and cheaper for them to provide good e-publishing facilities, the researchers would then type their papers directly into the library computers. The librarians could then use the publications for free and even put ads on the material to cover the cost, or make a profit.

Keith then discussed research with US students on library facilities. The new students were asked what they would need. Then in semester two they filled in a log book (on paper I noticed). Then with architects they had focus groups of students discussing room design. This found group work early in the semester, less group work mid semester and individual space needed at the end of semester panic. He asked how to provide these different needs without wasting space. What occurred to me was how to redesign courses to remove the end of semester panic, which is not good for the student's learning or for the staff's piece of mind (my course designs have, I hope, largely eliminated this problem).

Keith commented students came to the library with good intentions to student but then met their friends. Students tend not to talk to library staff; they do group work, have coffee and even borrow books. There were short, medium and long visits. The long visits have security problems and as a result food and drink bans were relaxed. Keith commented that students will typically put their bags and computers on the desks and then sit on the floor.

UQ designed a new Princess Alexandra Hospital/UQ Library. Design Nest architects did the interior design (like many firms of architects, Design Nest do not appear to have an accessible web site, so I can't provide a useful link). Designs were created for different types of spaces. Keith described this as "Ikea kitchen-like" but I would see it as using a pattern language. The architect then tried to fit these different types of spaces into the old building floor plan.

Keith commented that the large "service desk" was not needed. There were board room type meetings with a large table, flat screen display and writable walls along the outside with the windows. The center open space has informal group areas with sofas. Individual study spaces alongside widows have removable privacy panels. What struck me was how much the layout looked like a hotel lobby or airport lounge.

There were still some stacks of books. These were separated with movable glass walls for security.

The foyer has a large custom designed rectangular couch. This looked like King Furniture's modular systems. It strikes me that such a module system might prove useful.

Keith mentioned the "cone of silence", which is a Perspex hemisphere suspended over some desks to focus conversation down on the group and reduce the perception of outside noise. It would seem to me better to integrate this with the light fittings, rather than have funny looking plastic domes hanging around. These light fittings might also have speakers for multimedia and video conferencing integrated into them.

ps: I will be speaking on "The dos and donts in developing learning commons" at the Forum, 9:50am Thursday.

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