[LINK] University of Queensland Librarian on Change in Library Design and Role

Tom Worthington tom.worthington at tomw.net.au
Wed Mar 30 11:31:46 AEDT 2011

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 (this building's massing reminds me of 
a mainframe computer): <http://www.library.uq.edu.au/bio/>.

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 online from 

Keith suggested the campus map should be relabelled to indicate the type 
of learning experience for each space. He catalogued 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 Behaviour 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 

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: 

Firm Design Mist. Designs were created for different types of spaces. 
The architect then tried to fit these different types of spaces into the 
old building floor plan. Keith described this as "Ikea kitchen-like" but 
I would see it as using a pattern language: 

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 centre 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: 

Blogged version of this, with more links at: 

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM, TomW Communications Pty Ltd. t: 0419496150
PO Box 13, Belconnen ACT 2617, Australia  http://www.tomw.net.au
Adjunct Senior Lecturer, School of Computer Science, The
Australian National University http://cs.anu.edu.au/courses/COMP7310/
Visiting Scientist, CSIRO ICT Centre: http://bit.ly/csiro_ict_canberra

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