Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Grand designs: Fitzwilliam and Murray Edwards College libraries

I went on two library visits with the other trainees yesterday, to the libraries at Fitzwilliam and Murray Edwards colleges. These two libraries made a nice "library design" themed afternoon, as Fitzwilliam's library has recently moved into a new building, and Murray Edwards are planning a redesign of their library layout. So this was something a bit different from the usual library visit format, because as well as the usual tours we had the opportunity to find out a bit more about library planning and design.

Reading tower, Fitzwilliam libra
When we arrived at Fitzwilliam, first we went up to the old library, which was a single room above the college hall. Pictures of it in use showed it being absolutely bursting with books, with desks and chairs squeezed into all of the available space. Then we went over to the new library (about a year old) and had a look around, and then a chat with the librarian, Chris, about the challenges faced when planning a new library building. One of the great things about the building was the variety of study spaces available - from group study rooms and reading rooms with large tables, to the reading tower (a spiral staircase with individual desks in alcoves - great view!). Chris pointed out the importance of not relying too much on an architect knowing everything! A lot of the study spaces which had been designed to have 2 students studying side by side turned out to be too cramped, and so have been turned into single study spaces. Obviously none of us had much experience of library planning, so this was something a bit different, and good to know if we ever end up having to project manage a library move!
A motley crew exiting Fitzwilliam library

Then we popped round the corner to Murray Edwards College, and after some tea and biscuits, Jen gave us a tour around the library, beginning in the basement which feels a bit like a den or someone's living room, with squashy sofas and rugs! The main part of the library is totally different, with the other 3 floors being very open with big arches and pillars. Luckily we came on a really sunny day which made it absolutely beautiful - somewhat like this, since I didn't bring my phone into the library:

Rosemary Murray Library, from Murray Edwards website
 After our tour, Kirstie (the librarian) did a session with us on evaluating a library's flaws and coming up with solutions. Murray Edwards are planning to reorganise their library so that students can enter through the original main entrance on the ground floor, rather than coming in through the basement. While this might sound like a simple change, there are a lot of knock-on effects that need to be considered - for example, the OPACs, self issue terminals, and library office are in the basement by the entrance, so when the entrance is moved the ideal thing would be to have all of these transplanted and moved to the ground floor. The library is a grade 2* listed building, so that makes it trickier as well! Kirstie and the other library staff have come up with a plan, and it has been sent off to English Heritage for approval. If all goes well the work should be done over the summer and the library will be ready in it's new layout next September.

It was very interesting to see both the finished product of a library planning project, and the initial planning stages, as well as simply going to visit two very different, very lovely libraries. Our next trip will be to Oxford on the 28th March, which I'm very excited about as I've never been to Oxford before!

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