Academic librarians (and academics too) often lament the fact that students don’t use the wealth of library resources – both print and digital – that lie at their fingertips nearly as much as they could, or should.
Yet (at least at Curtin Uni library and I’m sure many others too) there is a constant stream of students coming in and out of the library building, and often every table, computer, group room, and seating arrangement is occupied. There is a real buzz about the place, and a lot of activity, as students converge in this central location to meet up, study, work on group assignments, socialize and generally hang out together.
At Curtin library, as in many others, the library is being transformed through reducing the print collections and converting that space into user-focused study and learning spaces. There is no doubt that at the present time the ‘physical’ library plays an important role in campus life.
However, as teaching and learning in universities undergoes its current revolution, moving toward a blended learning/ flipped classroom approach, spaces all around the campus are also being transformed. Faculties are redeveloping their buildings to be more conducive to interactive and collaborative learning, and are providing more and better facilities for students to congregate, such as postgraduate ‘hubs’, art and design studios, computer labs and multi media rooms. From these spaces, students can easily access the library’s resources online.
So, what then makes the library learning space unique? Does the library offer something of value that other faculty–based learning spaces don’t? If the answer is no, then the physical library is in danger of becoming obsolete.
However, I think the answer is yes. I was reassured by reading (well, skim-reading to be honest) a recent report by Simon Paul Atkinson entitled Re-visioning Learning Spaces: Evolving faculty roles and emerging learning spaces in which he maps the various learning activities that occur within the university and associated spaces, and in so doing clearly demonstrates the library’s value.
What, specifically, are the unique contributions that the library can make? I have identifed five, although I am sure there are more:
- The role of the academic librarian within the learning space
Changes in library learning spaces are changing the role and identity of the librarian within that space whereby new skills and knowledge are wedded to existing ones to create the ‘blended librarian’.
- Opportunities for leadership
Librarians are in a unique position to observe student behavior, spot trends etc and thus advise, guide and lead on teaching and learning strategy. They can provide leadership in terms of learning spaces developments within their institutions.
- A space for collaboration and partnerships
Libraries can potentially create learning spaces which integrate services from across the educational community, for the delivery of information and digital literacies
The example of HubCentral at the University of Adelaide, which integrates a number of services, is an interesting example of this potential. While it is not the actual campus ‘library’ (there are a number of different libraries across the campus), it is described as such.
- A space for community engagement
The library can provide a space for social events for both the university community as well as the wider community.
- Unique role as quiet space
Another unique function of some library learning spaces, which is appreciated by users, is the quiet ‘haven’ they provide, either as a quiet place for late night study (for those with extended opening hours) or for daytime use (particularly those with ‘silent rooms’).
What other things make library learning spaces unique?