|Notice on the toilet doors at Bath Spa University|
This is a question academic institutions and their employees have been asking themselves for a little while now but it's as current a dilemma as ever. The day included talks about learning environments, collaborative working, responding to student feedback and most inspiring of all, a talk by Bath Spa University's Director of Library Services, Alison Baud.
The first session was delivered by Chris Powis who talked about the refurbishment of one of the University of Northamton's campus libraries, which was influenced by discovering how and where students studied.
Ask and you might just get
Some key ideas I got from Chris' speech was the recommendation to ask for money if it was needed. Obvious, but also inspirational. Although putting together refurbishment projects is not strictly part of my remit, I can contribute ideas about how we use the spaces available to us. Reflecting on this, I realise I have done this already: making changes to the provision of audiovisual equipment, driving the changes to the space now empty after the move of the enquiry desk to one shared service desk, developing the space where we have our newspapers, contributing to the design of the new library hub...
Power and attachment
Chris and his colleagues went to where the students were to ask why they were 'learning' there: as well as the library they asked students in cafeterias, corridors, on benches and in vacant classrooms etc. Two key facts emerged: students are attracted to power. Where there is a power socket, you'll find a student and their laptop. The second finding seemed to be that students often had an emotional attachment to where they studied. This was hard to pinpoint but related to students' favourite spots in the library, where they always sat, and what they thought of when they thought of the library (a place of learning, even if they weren't sitting in there reading books or using e-resources, there was a traditional view of the library as an inspiration place of learning).
Other snippets to consider:
- if you want a space to be well used, you'll need to relinquish control of it a bit. People will make the space fit their needs if they can - such as dragging chairs nearer a plug, or to create a group study area
- Chris noted that students weren't the most innovative of people when it came to suggesting what they wanted from a learning space - they just want more of the same! More food and drink, more silent areas, more bookable rooms, longer opening hours.
- building flexibility into the space is key - and cheap. The more structured and fixed the layout and furniture, the more expensive.
- providing an inspirational space dedicated to learning is still very important and needed by students
My notes from this talk are extensive but no one really likes long blog posts so I'll leave it there, but suffice to say there was a lot of food for thought in this talk.