What is it?
The library reading room is a 24-hour study space suited to group and individual learning. The 577 m² space was refurbished in 2017 and can accommodate up to 156 students.
The space has been developed as part of the university's 'whole campus' approach to creating varied study spaces.
Earlier developments had focused on collaborative space and student feedback showed that there was still a high demand for quiet, individual study space.
The university has a strong tradition of student engagement and involved students in the project from the start. The emphasis was on students as the primary clients since, apart from the training room, the space is not used for teaching. The project team found the students made good clients and were very clear about what they wanted.
Good communications between library, estates and IT staff was essential as the project had to be delivered to a tight budget which involved negotiation on what IT facilities to include.
Respect other people's knowledge. Look to your various central services to offer solutions and be prepared to put your trust in them.
The approach to project governance was fairly new to those involved. It generally worked well although some of the initial project documentation was found to be complicated and confusing by those without previous experience of this type of project.
Once the project was under way reporting was 'by exception'. This is a standard approach in many project management methodologies meaning you only report on things that aren't going according to plan. This led some stakeholders to question why everything had gone quiet and to wonder what was happening.
The whole design process was very much oriented towards student needs. The LEGO serious play methodology was used and students were asked to build models showing challenges they faced in study spaces and models of what their ideal study space would be like.
The space is divided into individual study space, IT study space and a training room. The training room has glass walls to maintain a light, airy feel and this also serves to advertise the training offer as other library users can readily see what is going on in the room.
Student requirements for study space
- Desks with a surface area large enough to accommodate books, papers, computer, printer and drinks
- Dividers between the desks to give the impression of individual space
- Plugs in the desks
- Quiet space - moderated by librarians when necessary
- 24/7 access
Before and after
There are 32 IT study places with fixed PCs provided and 104 places geared to BYOD with plugs in each of the desks in response to student feedback.
There is also a 20 seat training room with fixed PCs.
The university has undertaken formal evaluation of the space by means of a student survey and observation by a researcher.
Once the reading room had been open for a few weeks a survey was released to students. This was initially planned as an 'exit' survey ie asking students leaving the reading room to complete a questionnaire. This approach achieved very few results so the survey was advertised to various groups on Facebook. The revised approach achieved more results with the caveat that it cannot be guaranteed all respondents had actually visited the space since it had been refurbished.
88% of respondents liked the new space and expectations of dos and don'ts in the space were broadly in line with the current rules. 65% of respondents were aware that the space was designated as a 'Whisper Zone' but only 35% were aware that there is a text line that can be contacted if the noise level is too high.
Currently only hot and cold drinks are allowed in the space and many students would like cold food to be permitted as well.
Future developments as a result of feedback gathered so far will include:
- Laptop loans
- Lockers for the storage of student belongings
- More flexible furniture eg chairs on wheels
Sometimes student needs are quite traditional. They want guaranteed space in a supervised environment with basic functionality that works well all the time.
Change management and transition
There was little call for change management in this project as it is a relatively traditional learning space.
Some changes to existing practices were nonetheless needed to manage the effective use of the space and 24/7 access. The reading room is open 24/7 with smart card access in the evenings. There is however still a time gap between the closure of the main library at 9pm and the reopening of the space.
The university is looking to implement a centralised booking system so that students will be able to book the training room for themselves.
For more on each of the topics mentioned in this case study see the UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit.