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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

‘Reconfiguring library spaces’… a user-centered approach… what do users really want?

By: Claudette Kercival

As tired as this topic may appear, debates, discussions and deliberations about enhancements and upgrades of library spaces still rage on.  It is clear that the relatively homogenous and open space that had been the norm since the 1950s no longer works.
Technology continues to drive much of the futuristic thinking within academic libraries (ACRL, 2012), consequently they are having to continually reconfigure their physical space to meet the ever-changing needs of the increasingly techno-savvy user, staff and broader university community.  The traditional landscape of the library is fast being influenced by the need to provide spaces where users can with ease, comfortably work with their various ‘trending’ electronic gadgetry.


Libraries are progressively changing in their function to provide a ‘conventional study space’.  In past years, there has been a concerted effort in many libraries to rethink and redevelop existing study spaces to  create what are generally termed the ‘Commons’  (Lewis, 2007).   UKZN libraries have also been making strides in reshaping their spaces to accommodate these trends.  The inception of the Research Commons in 2008 at the EG Malherbe Library has motioned the opening of further Research Commons at other campus libraries at UKZN.

But seriously, is this enough?  On the flip side, it is vitally important that library management together with all role players of the university, creatively use this opportunity to augment library spaces such that it provides for both formal and informal collaborative study spaces hence catering for the varied learning needs of  each user.  The aim should be to create comfortable, lively and active spaces where students/users can interact with each other, with information and with technology.  More importantly it should be able to offer support for the use of library resources.  Without a doubt, quiet study spaces are still extremely necessary, however, the need for a more informal, casual and relaxed ambience seems to be more appealing predominantly to the Y-generation.

I am inclined to think that library spaces should offer environments that “meet the demand for collaborative learning and teaching environments” (Winslow, 2007).  Communication modes of the millennial generation have changed dramatically from their predecessors and the focus is now on teamwork and group study. (Gardner & Eng, 2005)

Twelve years into the millennium, the future of academic libraries is still facing a great deal of uncertainty.  This ‘uncertain future’ comes in the wake of the ever-changing structure of scholarly communication.  What would then be the ideal library space and how would it best serve our users?
  •                   A new eclectic mix of different kinds of spaces and work 
                     environments that accommodate different   users and
  possess different ambiences?
  •       The convenience of a 24/7 library facilitating 
&nb;       accessibility?
  •                More collaborative group study rooms with smart boards?
  •     A more resource engaging space?
  •   More designated quiet spaces?

At the EG Malherbe Library plans for the future are afoot in anticipation of responding to the much needed change in the library’s physical space speaking to the needs of its users…
  • Larger Research Commons venue with seminar and 
                       discussion rooms for the Postgraduate  cohort                     
  •              Reconfiguring of the frontline services (Inter-Library 
Loans, Circulation and Academic  Reserves)>                    
  •               More group-study venues
  •   More computer lans
  •               Designated quiet and casual areas
The question beckons then … Are our libraries responsive enough to the vibrant technological changes?   And let’s not forget the ever-diminishing funding which EVERYTHING depends on!