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The library environment, finding a shared purpose

The meetings of the Liber Architecture Group are great to reflect on library spaces. I had the opportunity to combine a lecture in Helsinki, Finland, with some site visits and talks.

The first preseminar visits were on Tuesday May 6, and our starting point that day was exactly in our line of thinking. Valeria Gryada, from Aalto University, the Otaniemi campus, presented a way of involving the users in the design process, which we are also doing in Delft (see presentation I held on Friday to be published at the LAG website, prepared with Liesbeth Mantel).

The greenhouse project of Aalto University was a very low-budget (50 kEuro) project, where a student team rooted the basis for the set-up of the area. The students really get to know the insights of the specific school. Normally a design project is finished after transfer, but in this case it just started after the furniture had been brought in, with observing, learning and improving. Further her presentation had three more interesting elements, being: 1. mentioning the number of alumni (80000) as key element of the university details; 2. focusing on the areas of strength of the library; and 3. positioning the library as the place where “the university is seen”, as neutral ground. The library’s vision of seeing the learning centre network as a living organism seems to be a future proof one.

We visited two more libraries this first day, the Viiki Korona infocentre and the Terkko Medical Library. Both are examples of places that opened 15 or 16 years ago and that are now thinking of redesigning their locations and getting rid of the book stacks. Walking around in these places opened the discussion about what really remains after removing the books. A library context (adding meaning to meeting) adds commitment for a shared cause, knowing that all people in that learning environment are there for a shared purpose.

A lot of students put off their shoes.

A lot of students put off their shoes.

Aalto University - the techncal school.

Aalto University – the technical school.

Liber attendees listening during Terkko tour.

Liber attendees listening during Terkko tour.

The second preseminar (half) day was a visit to the beautiful music centre and the Sibelius Library. This building was created by putting the function as first priority (the acoustic designer’s voice was always listened to). The concert hall has glass windows though, and the stage is put in the middle of the hall, as in an arena. Music researchers, teachers, artists, students and lovers can work, listen and create together, a very well-thought concept. For us in Delft the word “creation” is also very important, and we would really like to see this realized in our physical library, both to show what was created by Delft’ hands, and by feeling the creative atmosphere during your study or work. This makes a nice bridge to my earlier thoughts about a library as a commitment to a shared purpose.

The stage and the windows in the concert hall.

The stage and the windows in the concert hall.

Pike statue outside the music centre.

Pike statue outside the music centre.

On Wednesday May 7 in the afternoon Kirsti Lonka, Prof. of Educational Psychology, University of Helsinki, held her keynote lecture, and tried to engage us participants by asking us to think how we should design our spaces for the digital natives (and digital immigrants). She explained the differences between these two groups, and these are quite huge. We of course still have to accommodate both. In her opinion e-learning is dead, and blended learning is king. Every third meeting Kirsti said  should be a face-to-face one. Blended learning environments combine physical, virtual, social, mobile and mental spaces of learning – beyond the classroom! This is a very short wrap-up of her presentation. Surprisingly though was that she referred to the library as a space attached to the learning centre, of course connected, but not (yet) included or renamed. That is not how we position our library in Delft.

Then the topic moved to office work spaces for librarians and a few trends were highlighted. One of them was the idea of an activity-based office where different work profiles should fit into, being the anchor, connector, gatherer (collector) and navigator. Or the acknowledgement that the library staff should not think of their own spaces as separate from their users’ spaces. We all need to discover, gather, analyse, create and share.

I would like to summarize the second day of the seminar, Thursday May 8, with a tripadvisor (and I am selecting just a few of the presentations!). Today we could go to see the Vienna Resource Centre. The biggest question is whether the space is embraced by the users, or remains an artistic impression, You could only know by really visiting the site. If you wait just a few months you could see the Sleeping Beauty of Riga, the castle of light or national library, to be opened end of August. Elif Tinaztepe, from Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, won the 2012 Collaboration Award for their user involvement in the DOKK1 project for Aarhus. Within a year you will be able to visit it. A bit further down the road (first half of 2016) lies the opening of LILLIAD Innovation Learning Center (a refurbishment of the Library), where they are creating a place to support the culture of innovation. And the day ended with a double trip to Kaisa House, first in the afternoon during the normal tour and then with Liesbeth Mantel and Francine Houben in the evening after our conference dinner.

Kaisa House opened September 2012

Kaisa House opened September 2012

The Library still has a lot of bookshelves, but a very nice design.

The Library still has a lot of bookshelves.

After our exciting evening adventure our last day of the seminar arrived on Friday. In the morning we heard in the first session technical aspects of the libraries built and to be renovated in Bern (Switzerland), and the huge building (85000 sqm and capacity of 320 km records shelving) of the national library of France. Then I could present my talk about our Living Campus and the use of personas. It was very nice that Francine Houben, our architect, made the connection in her presentation afterwards and showed the difference in the floormap of our Library between 1998 and 2014. Further I heard again her very nice presentation about the Birmingham Library, never boring. Francine also asked all librarians and architects to speak up to the politicians so that they would be able to understand that a library is more than books (and as I put it “more than a building”). The seminar was closed by the lecture of Anne Hanneford (the Hive at Worcester), which is a truly combined library for both the main public, researchers and students and in all ways connects the city with the university. They won the Times Higher Education Award for Library Team last year.

Concluding remarks: the library should not just reach out to its users, but put  them central in their innovation process. Without interaction with other disciplines, other ideas, other people you will have no innovation. So make sure that you not only facilitate this process for your users, but also apply this to your own staff and actions. And always keep your eyes and ears open. You can add context and people will find their shared purpose in the library environment that suits them best.

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