The Library as Collaboratory

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Do the current library spaces support cross-departmental communication and should they in the future?  This question elicited a mixed response during our October interviews with students and staff.

Overall the majority of those asked feel that the library does not currently support this well although many interviewees did provide ideas about how this might be remedied. Most interestingly 20% of participants thought that this was not the libraries responsibility and that it should be up to individual departments to develop this.

We know that the landscape of the academic library is changing. Partially in response to technology but also reflecting changing teaching and learning habits including an increase in collaborative learning.   So although it may not be the responsibility of the library to promote cross-disciplinary education, it does seem that it could be well placed as a neutral ground to support this.

One concept that recurred throughout the interviews was the notion of a cross-departmental project space – although little detail was supplied about what that might look like and do. In an earlier blog article, ‘What will the future UoW library offer?’ We discussed several ideas for new services including ‘Maker Spaces’ and ‘Fab Labs’ which are technology-rich places where people gather to co-create, share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network and build.  Could this be the type of project space that would work in the UoW?

Alternatively, something more social might be preferred.  One participant suggested an app where you can meet people working on complementary projects – sort of an academic Tinder!   There could be a relaxed lounge supporting this app in the library where people meet casually to advance their ideas. Perhaps it is a showcase or exhibition featuring the work of all departments or cross-departmental projects promoting collaboration.

As usual, we would love to know what you think.  Should the library become a Collaboratory where students from complementary or contrasting departments can meet to invent, imagine and create? And if so, what does this look like? Leave your comments below of direct message us on Twitter @WarwickLibScape.

The Evolution of the Study Carrel

 

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Senate House / Exeter College / Standard Carrels / Variety of Study Booths

Back in October, you told us that you wanted more group and quiet space in roughly equal numbers.   An even split in the desire for group and quiet space is not an usual in our experience, and we often suspect that this is due to a genuine need for an increase in group workspaces yet not at the expense of rare and valued individual spots.  Interestingly some interviewees suggested that learning spaces change seasonally to support a higher number of individual seats at critical points of the academic year.

Microarchitecture has become hugely popular in both commercial and academic environments in the last decade as a way of creating temporary quiet spaces. However, microarchitecture is not a new phenomenon in libraries.  Study carrels have always been a feature of the academic library creating micro-environments within the larger envelope and providing a spot where you can be alone to focus without taking up valuable space. However, until recently they have not been very flexible, comfortable or sexy.

If you are lucky, you might go to a University where they have an original 19th-century building with carrels such as the examples from Senate House (London) or Exeter College (USA) above.  What they lack in comfort they certainly make up for with plenty of charm.  Sadly, more often than not libraries are crammed with bland pale fixed timber partitions which are lacking in both character and comfort.

Fortunately, inspired by the rise in open plan workplaces furniture manufacturers have come up with a plethora of microarchitecture solutions that mimic the function on the carrel yet are infinitely more stylish, comfortable and flexible.  These range from alcoves built into walls, huts, upholstered pods and most interesting of all portable cardboard shields that can turn any desk space into a semi-private environment (see below).  The cardboard shields are perhaps the most flexible solution available as you can create a microenvironment at any time or place or move around creating an individual pocket of space wherever you please.  Perhaps this is the type of thinking required for a 21st-century library that needs to change seasonally?

Do you have any ideas on how to create microenvironments, or how your learning landscape could change throughout the academic year?  We would love to know your thoughts. Leave your comments below or direct message us on Twitter at @warwicklibscape.

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Cardboard / Temporary Study Booths

Mindfulness, Wellbeing and 40 winks

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Ostrich pillow

One of the most prominent insights revealed by our interviews with you in October was an overwhelming desire for spaces in the library that encourage relaxation and foster mindfulness.  Many interesting ideas were put forward including,

  • Mindfulness or Wellness zones
  • Flexible space for yoga and Thai Chi
  • Comfortable area to watch YouTube and listen to music.
  • Places to meet and play board games such as chess
  • A Zen Garden
  • Sensory rooms

All of these ideas were suggested multiple times. However, the request that recurred most frequently was for sleep pods. This makes a lot of sense, power naps help you to reset your system making you more alert and giving you a burst of energy.  A study by the University of Düsseldorf has shown that even very short naps enhance memory processing, while a Nasa study, looking at their effects on pilots on long flights, reported that naps maintain or improve performance, physiological and subjective alertness, and mood. According to WebMD, even a 20-minute nap is good for alertness and motor learning skills while longer periods such as 30 minutes can help boost memory and enhance creativity.  They go on to add that nodding off is even better for your productivity than a cup of coffee as caffeine can decrease memory performance. “So you may feel more wired, but you are also prone to making more mistakes.”

Google is well known for their innovative offices and has been using nap pods like the ones below for several years (the models shown in the picture below are actually from California State University’s Wellness Centre).  They are fairly big, and we suspect they would be expensive, but you don’t need lots of space or expensive equipment to create a pro-napping environment.  All you need is a comfortable place where you can shut out the light.  One of our favourite products in recent years is the Ostrich Pillow (below) which is tailor-made for quick post-lunch naps – Now imagine you could have your own Ostrich Pillow stored at the library ready for use!

We would love to hear more of your ideas for relaxing pro-napping spaces. Leave your comments here or tweet your thoughts to @warwicklibscape

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Sleep pods

 

 

Your vision of the future

Asking people what they think will happen in the future is always tricky. More often than not most people will respond to the word ‘future’ by coming up with some crazy Star Trekesque vision of what might be. But Futurecasting is an essential part of big business. Intel’s Futurist, Brian David Johnson advises that Futurecasting is a process that begins with people from all walks of life and a LOT of conversation and to some extent, this is what we have been trying to do with the LibScape Blog.

Other Futurists examine past patterns and current trends searching for early ideas and innovations that are likely to catch on. For example, with all the new social learning environments now available students may long for something more traditional and formal. Alternatively, the increase in simulation as an academic tool could make a case for creating environments replicating those you might encounter in your future career.

The articles on the LibScape Blog so far have been designed to inspire creative thinking. Some ideas may be a little far-fetched, and some of the spaces we have included might be a little extreme, but we want to provoke a reaction and to prompt you to think big!

The truth is that changes in the near future are likely to be an evolution of what is happening or starting to happen now. For example, you may already do all your active learning online, downloading lectures, taking part in exams, collaborating on group projects and so on. It would be logical that your new university spaces will need to support these activities but what would that mean? Some would argue that the social aspects of your learning spaces will become increasingly important as the need for a sense of community intensifies in reaction to the isolation of our online lives. The extreme version of this would mean that universities might drastically reduce in scale, fragment or entirely change their layout and structure.

To inspire you to think about your current experience and potential future solutions we have embedded a short film. This film was made several years ago by anthropology students at Kansas State University and was part of a project that examined their ‘Vision of Students Today.’ It presents an honest view of the student experience, and it inspires us to think creatively about potential future solutions.

We hope you enjoy the film and leave us some comments.

We would love to hear your ideas!

 

Identity & Belonging

WarwickThe notion of identity is often an overlooked yet critical issue when creating a new space. A good identity will connect with people, giving them a sense of pride and a feeling of belonging. In our experience understanding the real, rather than the perceived identity of a community is often the route to creating a successful place. 

As mentioned in previous posts Universities across the country have been developing new types of space and new buildings to support student experience in the 21st century. Although these are often pleasant contemporary spaces there can be a degree of similarity and replication that occurs due to the types of products, materials and furniture available on the market suitable for these large public spaces amongst other factors. 

In our experience, the spaces that stand out as special are those that express something about the identity of that place and the community who inhabit it. There is a myriad of ways in which this can be achieved from the design of the architectural envelope through to the furniture specification, internal artwork and even the online personality of a place. 

We are often asked to write/speak about this topic, and two projects in our portfolio illustrate the point. These projects are very different yet just over a mile apart geographically. The first project is a University of Glasgow space. In this space, a huge glazed facade looks out onto the wonderful historic architecture of the UoG campus while vintage furniture borrowed from the Art Deco period reading room on campus and oak finishes throughout provide tangible links to the past. Underlining all of this are a series of graphic artworks constructed from University archive and museum materials which display a mixture of achievements, historical events, people and quirky cultural references, which could only be found in this place. 

The second project is at Glasgow Caledonian University and provides a sharp contrast to UoG. Here the architecture and internal structures have been used to express the concept of a forward-thinking, ambitious, different place. The design mixes organic forms with furniture and materials that are colourful and quirky to blend the inside with the newly landscaped exterior juxtaposing the internal artwork which is abstract, sharp and geometric. 

So how can we uncover the real identity of the University of Warwick and in particular the Library community? 

Responses to our field interviews have shed some light on this, and we will soon be loading up a poll to prompt you to give us more information on this subject so please do keep checking back. Alternatively, if you have strong views about the identity, we should be striving towards leave a comment or tweet at us here @WarwickLibScape

Building on your views

One of the strongest – and most welcome – themes of the new University Strategy is the importance of partnership working with students in the co-creation of the Warwick Education experience.  Or, to paraphrase the Education Strategy – and put it in simpler language – ‘our priority is to listen to the student voice’.

Warwick has always listened and responded to student needs and eagle-eyed readers will have recently seen the phrase ‘let’s keep the dialogue going’ and a capital D on its side (representing ‘Dialogue’ and a mouth – clever stuff!) on posters and digital screens around campus advertising surveys.

The National Student Survey – the biggest of these questionnaires – enables undergraduates to raise concerns about their teaching and learning experience.  PTES and PRES offer the same opportunity to postgraduates. The biggest issue raised about the Library is around study space.  There are some lovely comments about how much students like the Library spaces but more comments about how the Library is ‘too small’ and that study space across campus is at a premium, especially in Term 3.

Over the years the Library has responded to such comments with the development of new and different study environments – the Learning Grids in University House, Rootes Grid, Leamington Grid, the PG Hub and Research Exchange, as well as on-going remodelling of the main Library.  When students lobbied for a 24 x 7 Library we worked with the University to make this a reality.

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But more work is needed. We all know the Library is ‘too small’ but we need more granularity too.  What sort of space do you want?  Where? And when?

This is why we are working with Nomad to get your views to inform not only longer term plans (a new Library is in the University’s Capital Plan for 6-10 years) but also to improve things for you over the next 2-3 years.

So, what would help you? We’re listening…

 

Ant Brewerton.

Head of Academic Services.

@warwicklibrary