I recently went on a visit to Sheffield Hallam University’s Adsetts Learning Centre organised by CILIP Academic and Research Libraries Group (Yorkshire & Humberside division). I wanted to write a post and include some pictures to share (with their permission) because they had an interesting story to tell! Hallam have been refurbishing the library in stages for the past few years and had the good fortune of being able to incorporate in-depth research some of the staff had just done on student usage/likes/dislikes/wishes into the planning and redevelopment process.
It was a merry bunch, about 15 of us total and all new faces for me! The group was mostly other academic librarians, but I didn’t get to meet everyone. We started the visit with lunch (mmm…) and then were treated to presentations about the history of the university library and the research staff had done, and also tours of the special collections and library itself. Since my husband is from Sheffield, some of the names in Sandy Buchanan’s history talk rang a bell…The main library (Adsetts) developed over time as various collegiate and other collections were combined. The current facility was built in 1996, but they’ve been redeveloping it since 2007-8. Sandy said it’s been a manageable process to work around for students and staff since the redevelopment was done in stages, basically by floor.
Bea Turpin and Deborah Harrop gave a presentation of their research on ‘What makes a successful informal learning space?’ This was excellent; their research included qualitative and quantitive research, and in the process debunked or adjusted various preconceptions they/we have about what students want in a learning space and how they actually use it. Their research included ‘observational sweeps’ at various times and locations (which consisted of student questionnaires) and also coordinates and photographic mapping exercises (which pinpointed how/when spaces were being used). They developed a typology of attributes based on their data and if you want to know more, their work is being published in the New Review of Academic Librarianship (2013) 19.
Some of the conclusions and results I found most interesting were:
- The variety of types of spaces students valued, i.e. dedicated silent study space, group work areas and also a kind of middle ground where students wanted individual study space but where they could still ‘study together’ with their friend next door. This translated into the redevelopment mainly through a wide range of desk and partition types. Some desks were actually movable where you could create a bigger space. Some had high partitions between study spaces, whereas others had small ones or none. They also had super cool bookable meeting rooms and booths with built-in dry erase boards!
- Requirements of the environment, i.e. lighting, privacy, access to IT/power outlets, ergonomics, easy access to refreshments. Some of the other librarians were raving about some tables in a casual group space near the cafe that had the power plugs installed right on the table top! This was both convenient for students and prevented health and safety risks of trailing power cords. The natural light was limited in the building, but the redevelopment has maximised that and their new lighting system is meant to mimic natural light since students preferred it. They also took decibel readings to see how quiet or noisy spaces were since this was an important learner preference (i.e. silent spaces really should be silent!).
- Inclusion and display of student artwork and other projects. This was a brilliant idea since it raises awareness of student’s work, uses those random little niches in the building and adds to the vibrant atmosphere. I really liked a wall that doubled as a partition to a chill out area which had several TV screens showing student’s animation and computer graphics projects.
- The main conclusion was that their aim of ‘evidence-based means for change’ was highly effective in planning study spaces that met students needs and that used the space most efficiently. Thanks for a great, informative day out!