University library redesign — shaping the future of research and learning

English: The main reading romm of Graz Univers...

English: The main reading room of Graz University Library (19th century) on 2 Sep 2003. (Photo by Dr. Marcus Gossler)

Is the university library going the way of the dodo? As with all things, change is a given, and today’s modern technologies have been impacting the way higher education conducts its learning and research. But that doesn’t mean that libraries will cease to exist. As the concept of the university library undergoes a redesign, what can students and professors expect?

Why redesign?

The main driver for the changes of any university library is new technology. According to Julia Lawrence’s August 13, 2013, article “University Libraries Investing in Redesign, Embracing Evolving Roles,” for Education News, schools are investing in the new facilities “to meet the infrastructure and operational needs of technology.” She adds that the changes are a matter of form following function and that many of the updates are anticipating future educational changes to come.

Certainly updating libraries will make them nicer looking. But does that mean that these cooler spaces to study will help (or encourage!) students to learn more or even better? Lawrence writes that “the question of whether aesthetics actually aid in learning is far from settled.” But it can’t hurt, right?

What are the trends?

Many have argued that with the advance of the Internet, the university library will become extinct. Actually, it appears that the use of libraries has increased among college students when it comes to research and learning. Thomas Sens writes in “12 Major Trends in Library Design” for Libraryworks.com that the Internet may offer access to information whenever a student wants it, but it doesn’t offer any sense of collaboration or a forum for healthy debate.

Sens notes, “One reason for this phenomenon is that today’s college students have heightened expectations and demands for academic libraries based on new approaches to learning.” Here are the 12 trends he finds are defining “how the library has evolved to maintain its essential position within the academic landscape”:

  1.         Envision the library as place.
  2.         Invite students and other stakeholders to the table.
  3.         Make collaboration a must.
  4.         See that technology drives the bus.
  5.         Plan for change.
  6.         Use the library to attract and retain top students.
  7.         Optimize spaces between spaces.
  8.         Consolidate emerging specialty spaces.
  9.         Take advantage of the commons.
  10. Rethink library programming.
  11. Design for environmental sustainability.
  12. Get creative with funding.

What are the results?

Maybe the redesign of a university library should be seen more as evolutionary than as reactionary. As the learning and research needs of students has shifted, so to have the actual architecture of the library building. Claire Shaw blogs for TheGuardian.com about what the actuality of university library redesign looks like in “University libraries are shaping the future of learning and research” posted on August 6, 2013. Shaw specifically mentions the redesign of the University of Birmingham (England) library. The intent there was to “future proof” the building by installing extra-strong floors and well-placed lighting to improve the flexibility and versatility of the space for the future.

As students are asked to engage in more social learning or group learning, expect to see more universities changing the look of their libraries. Shaw quotes David Lindley, executive director of Designing Libraries, an online resource for the library community, who says: “redesign and refurbishment will commonly increase usage by 50% and even double the occupancy as libraries introduce multi-purpose spaces, study spaces and more relaxed furnishings.”

For your parents and even just the generation before you, a university library may have been a place of quiet and contemplation with only small pockets of group study. However, for today’s college student, they are fast becoming places of group learning with small pockets of quiet. Libraries aren’t disappearing; they are simply changing with the times.

Want to learn more about library design? Check out Questia‘s sections on architecture, educational technology and Internet and education.

What do you think? Does the design of a library enhance or inhibit learning? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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