Visit to Aberdeen University Library

As both Jacqui and I have visited the Sir Duncan Rice Library, the stunning flagship library at the University of Aberdeen, we thought we would write a joint blog post about our experiences!

Sir Duncan Rice Library

Jacqui writes: I visited Aberdeen on 17th February to attend the SCURL Symposium University Challenge: Transforming your Academic Library which was held in the Sir Duncan Rice Library.

In addition to a tour of the Sir Duncan Rice Library I attended a number of presentations which covered the design of library spaces.  A common problem for many was lack of space (and patchy wifi).  The point was made that in addition to wanting different types of library environment at different times of the year, many students want to use different types of library space in any one day.

Certainly, mapping your space and knowing how it is used were identified as key elements to successful design.  Some saw the library space as an ‘office’ for students, others as a ‘home from home’. It was emphasised that when designing library space we need to remember we’re not designing it for ourselves. One institution used an ethnography company when redesigning its spaces and also got user feedback from Vox Pops and focus groups.  Yik Yak was used in one place for finding out how students felt about their library spaces with staff being able to post comments anonymously.  One delegate observed that, whereas students are currently bringing up to 3 of their own devices into the library, in 5 years’ time we might expect this to be down to a single multi-functional device and could therefore design library spaces accordingly.  Another delegate made the interesting comment that researchers value library content but don’t see the library as a place for them.

A key consideration at the core of much of the day was the importance of continuous improvement, always ensuring that you appeal to your current user cohorts and never declaring your library development finished (being in Scotland, the analogy with the Forth Bridge was of course made!)

Hilary writes: I visited the University of Aberdeen as part of a benchmarking exercise in February.  I was interested to see how other universities are using their library spaces, and as part of this I was given a tour of the Taylor Law Library and the main Sir Duncan Rice Library.  It was also a trip down memory lane for me, as I last visited the Taylor Law Library as part of my law degree course over 20 years ago!

The Law Library has a very impressive collection of law resources.  I particularly liked their EU collection (the Library also hosts a European Documentation Centre) and their collections in niche areas such as air and space law.  The Library runs a lot of training courses for the undergraduate and postgraduate students and I was very interested to see their library guides (particularly their OSCOLA guide which has a clear layout for this rather complex referencing system).

After my tour around the Law Library, I was shown around the Sir Duncan Rice Library which is less than 5 minutes walk away.  It is an amazing building, particularly when you stand in the atrium and try to grasp the scale of everything around you.  It has 9 floors and contains over 1,200 study spaces and 24 kilometres of shelving.  Students studying by the windows can take in a vista of the North Sea and some of the highlights of Aberdeen (e.g. Pittodrie Stadium, home of Aberdeen FC).

The building was designed by Danish architects and is intended to evoke the features of the North, such as glass, ice and light. It cost £57 million to build, a significant amount of which came from donations. Donors are named on a digital signage wall within the Library’s atrium.

The Library itself contains many interesting features, including a dedicated returns room complete with conveyor belts; unisex toilets; assistive technology booths and reader carrels; a training room where the wall can be removed to create a bigger classroom; and a music resources room with iMac computers and Sibelius software.

I really enjoyed my visit to the Sir Duncan Rice Library.  Although some small changes have been made to the layout of it since it was built, it works well as a library space.  It is also a very green building with many sustainable design features.  The Library works hard to engage with the community (e.g. hosting events and letting people have access to the special collections) and it has been very successful not just with students, but also with the wider public.

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