A key area of debate within the public and academic library sectors across the world is use of physical space. Changing ideas about what a library should be, coupled with the growth of digital collections, has raised fundamental questions about how library buildings are used and the role of space in library services. Alongside these drivers is the need for libraries to produce data on services to inform their future development and design.
Within universities learning spaces have evolved over the years, from traditional lecture style classrooms to technology-enhanced work stations that promote collaborative learning. The same has happened in libraries. Libraries continue to be heavily used by students, though largely independent of print collections, and librarians' roles have become much more grounded in teaching and research enterprises, frequently outside the confines of the library building.
To prepare for the future, libraries should continue the migration toward electronic collections and leverage the resulting efficiency gains. Increasingly, unused print collections can be relocated to off-site storage for optimum storage and on-demand retrieval. This will allow the use of library space to be shifted from collection storage to learning spaces for students. This process of development, including a re-conception of services offered by librarians, will ultimately allow two further developments: the closer positioning of librarians into teaching and research activities and a broadening of the library's curatorial role from the purchase (and licensing of) materials, to the management of locally produced research outputs, data sets, and learning objects.
What may be missing, though, is a more systematic assessment of the situation. We must continuously observe client behaviour and take note of any shifts for intervention and pre-planning. At the same time our focus should also be on studying how the use of space is connected to research and learning activities, how space is used in association with "traditional" library services and print collections, how space relates to the balance between self-directed study in quiet spaces and group activity in active spaces, and how technology is used in all of these.
We should further find ways to explore patterns for library usage such as the number of hours students spend in the library, what activities they engage in and with which activity are they mostly in the library? Is it preparing for a group assignments, working on an individual term paper or studying for end-of-year examinations.
Which tools do they want when they're in the library? Is it access to bookable group rooms with plasma screens and data projectors, coupled with other technology to foster collaboration? Is it wireless networks, extensive access to electric sockets, presentation rehearsal facilities, and recording services? Or lockable facilities so that they can store computers, notes, and other materials when they need to take a brief break? What will students want during preparations for exams? Is it enhanced break-out areas with soft furnishings, couches, coffee, and fresh air?
I realized how challenging it would be to make the above evaluations without student involvement, and supporting surveys that serve as proof that we are going in the right direction. In summary, we should consistently monitor our library and provide both a study and a learning space and encourage learning through the way we present the library of the future. We should also note that students are heavy consumers of online information resources: electronic journals, databases, and e-books. But they value the library as a place that offers an academic ambience for their work, a forum for engagement with others, and a flexible space that meets their shifting needs during the cycle of the semester.
By Marcus Maphile
Keith Webster “The Library Space as Learning Space” 2010 E-Content
David W. Lewis, "A Model for Academic Libraries, 2005 to 2025," paper presented at Visions of Change, California State University, January 26, 2007, <http://hdl.handle.net/1805/665>.