CSGUK Visit to Royal Holloway


Thanks to the Customer Service Group UK, this summer I, along with other lucky Information Assistants, was able to visit the library of another University and learn about their experiences.

I was quite keen on a visit to Royal Holloway (I have wanted to go ever since first seeing a photo of the Founders’ Building) and was duly dispatched out to Egham, which is a bit of a trek, but one that took me through one of my many ancestral lands – and via the old Waterloo International platforms, now being made part of Waterloo following a stint as a theatre.


Departure from London Waterloo
Departure from London Waterloo


I got a little lost, too, after deciding to take the Google Maps shortcut – and I wasn’t the only one.  And after a long hot walk up a hill, my first view of said Founder’s Building was worth the effort.


The final approach on arrival - my it was hot walking up the hill!
The final approach on arrival – my it was hot walking up the hill!


At the start of the 2017/18 academic year, Royal Holloway opened a big new building, named after Alumna and Suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison, that largely consists of a new library, but also houses a café, Student Services, the Careers service, the Student Union Shop, a bank and an exhibition space.  Apparently it started out as quite a controversial venture as it meant clearing an area of its trees; leaving me to wonder what it would be like to even have a wooded area on campus to be able to clear for a new library building…

But, daydreaming aside, the trip consisted of a talk from fellow Holloway IAs about the operation of the new library following its opening, before a tour of the premises and a chance to ask questions and share experiences.

Tapestry of Emily Wilding Davison in the building's entrance
Tapestry of Emily Wilding Davison in the building’s entrance
The New Library

Ultimately the new library replaced two older ones that had become oversubscribed as students numbers have grown – one of our hosts even commented that they had heard that the newer of these two, built in the 90s, and never really been fit for purpose.  As these libraries were so oversubscribed, there had been issues with student behaviour as a result.

Part of trying to soothe issues had been employing a Study Spaces Assistant (from January to April each year) to patrol the study areas.  Interestingly, Holloway have space saving cards allowing students to save a study space for 45 minutes if they need a break – part of the Study Spaces Assistant’s role is to move items if people have taken too long over their break.  They also Tweet study space availability and generally keep the spaces study spaces.

Such has been the success of having a bigger library with extra study spaces that the Study Spaces Assistant has gone from being seen as the Library Policeman to being referred to as the Space Man.  How this will develop if numbers continue to grow, we shall see.  Currently, though, in the first year, belongings are moved far less and complaints have gone down.

The Emily Wilding Davison Building
The Emily Wilding Davison Building
Ways it is run

In their talk, our hosts highlighted various ways in which the new library is run, that I thought would be interesting to share in the following fashion:

  • The user services staff has been reorganised into dedicated customer services team of 10 (plus another 30 to cover extended opening hours), the IAs of whom, work only on the frontline desks, manning the Enquiry Management Service (a sort of triage that gets enquiries where they need to go and look after the social media output – they had 10,000 enquiries in the first 6 months of the new library) and roving every hour, on the hour. There was a sash for roving.  It did not last long – it worked well in getting attention but was not comfortable or practical to wear.
  • The Collection is housed in an interesting way. On the ground floor is kept the High Use collection, with the General Use collection being kept separately in different areas upstairs.  The High Use collection comprises about 19% of the overall collection but makes up more than 50% of all loans.  Both consist of 24hr, 1 week and 3 week loans.
  • Students were consulted about the use of space and, perhaps not unsurprisingly, most of it has become Silent Study. Interestingly, despite all this lovely new space, one of the reading rooms in the oldest of the older libraries (and housed in the Founder’s Building) is going to re-open later this year because no amount of brand new space can replace the old building atmospherics.
  • They have a book sorting machine! This was quite exciting to see up close as I have only ever seen one through a window (this one is kept in a special room).  It takes books from returns machines and then sorts them into High and General Use.  As trollies are filled with the returned books, slips are placed recording the time so that they can record statistics on how long shelving takes.

A few issues they have found:

  • Holloway have laptop loaning cabinets but have had some issues around their use as they can be difficult to return, meaning that security will sometimes end up making a pile of returns after hours.
  • Rolling stacks have been used to house a proportion of the General Use collection. However, they have found them near impossible to re-shelve due to students needing access and meaning a need to change shelving times.
  • A lack of initial signage may have caused an intial problem with noise. And getting the temperature right was experimental at first.
The Tour

Finally, here are some things I noticed on the tour:

  • The chairs are nice.
  • Yep – there are deckchairs style soft chairs on the bridge bits between the study spaces that look out the building across to the Founder’s Building (see below). There is an array of seating styles and configurations in the group study areas (nicely accessible furniture, I noted, still viewing things through the eyes of an accessibility auditor).  There are lovely little one-person desks at the sides of the silent study areas that reminded me of the (now destroyed) desks I used to use as a UG.
  • So much would be possible if we could clear Northampton Square Gardens and make a new library building…
Some furniture and view across to the Founder's Building
Some furniture and view across to the Founder’s Building
  • They had a lot of bookable Group Study Rooms (booked in a similar way with similar – maybe even the same – restrictions as us). These have nice little tablet displays outside that show the bookings for the day and with coloured lights that show if there are booked or not.
  • Seriously, we could build a tower, start from scratch, create it how we would want a library…
  • There is a lovely outside area that seemed a bit of a waste in some ways as food and drink cannot be consumed out there. But, as a place to take a break, it is quite something:
The outside area and view toward Heathrow, Wembley and Central London
The outside area and view toward Heathrow, Wembley and Central London…
... and the view at the other end - in between is seemingly endless trees
… and the view at the other end – in between is a scene of seemingly endless trees
  • The views we could create across London would be unrivalled – we could even have a revolving restaurant at the top…
  • They have a specialist area for PG (Research) students that is rather nice. Interestingly, one of the snags they found is not having enough printers in certain areas and so this space will lose one of the printers that is underused.  They also had a lovely feedback corner in this space showing how much students love it.
  • It could have tunnels linking it to the College, University and Tait building, potentially Drysdale and Sebastian Street, why not?
  • One strange, but also lovely thing, was that they had security gates much like ours at the entrance which had been left open. This is permanent – while building the new library, they were informed that one of the founders of Royal Holloway had stipulated that it must be open access to all.  This means that they will never be allowed to use the gates!  Although there is a membership fee for Royal Holloway, members of the public have free reference access.
  • A floor or two for each school, creating a mini library for each tailored to their student’s specific needs and named after their UX personas.
  • I know it’s not feasible. It would not look nice for one thing.  But just imagine…

So thank you very much to Derek, Customer Service Group UK and my Holloway Hosts  for an enjoyable, interesting and thought-provoking afternoon.

For further info – I have a guide to the building on my desk if anyone would like to take a look.

One thought on “CSGUK Visit to Royal Holloway

  1. We could project a book sign on to the sky…or have a great eye on top! Possibilities!

    Thank you for the great review James.

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