New Library buildings and technology

Weaving New Futures

ARLIS Annual Conference

University of Leeds

13th – 15th July 2011

Living Libraries: settings for access and sharing

Catherine Greene, Senior Associate, RCA Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design

Libraries find themselves needing to adapt dramatically in order to be able to sustain new ways of working. Libraries are collaborating  with architects, health and safety experts and taking into account new technology requirements, in trying to achieve effective and inspiring working environments for their users. But Greene finds that more often than not “the digital and virtual research environment leaps forward and the physical environment lags behind”. She finds that this may suit those academics who have the desire and the ability to work from home, but fails the students who may not be equipped with the best technology of their own and want a comfortable and easily accessible study space which contains all these.  So despite the ‘Think Tanks’, the ‘Discovery Centres’ etc, we are not really providing the best space for academic learning. 

Greene talks of a project (DEGW and Unwired)  which aims, by looking at both digital and analogue tools that researchers use and both the virtual and physical spaces that they work in, to understand how technology has affected the use of physical space by researchers and how libraries should adapt as a result.  Researchers should be enabled to discover, gather, analyse, create and share. Architects and designers should bear in mind that individual researchers may be using the same Library facilities differently.  Some will use the library space and resources to gather information  whilst others will use them to process information.  Some users are drawn to a certain space because it is a quiet space where they can escape distractions, others are drawn to a certain library space because it is full of hustle and bustle -either because they wish to interact with others, or because the activity and atmosphere is inspiring, or because they find the noise less distracting than silence. Some users will want to be in solitude at specific times in the research process and in a shared space at other times. No single library space will suit everyone all of the time, so learning environments should be flexible with increased privacy, definition, independence and individuality as well as comfort. Greene advocated the use of ‘pods’, canopies and screens to break up spaces. Bookshelves, library catalogues, tables and computers and whiteboards should be intermingled to facilitate the use of different formats side by side. There should be more bookable study rooms, for groups or individuals and new technology should be used in such a way that these rooms ‘recognise’ the user and ‘personalises’ the environment accordingly. For more information see:


Post by: Maria Daniel and David Pulford

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