Sunday, April 12, 2015

Why Libraries Still Matter: Insights From a Recent Study of Academic Libraries by Gensler

Just as I was contemplating topics for Library Week,  I had a chance to review a 2014 study which provided at least of one perspective on “Why Libraries Still Matter.”

The global architectural and design firm Gensler recently published a compilation of their Research Reports and one the reports asks “Why do students really go to the library?”

The results are based on an observational analysis conducted at seven US and UK university libraries using a web-based observational tool.

What tools do students use in the library? Surprise!
c.Gensler

What Tools Are They Using When They Are In the Library?

The results are fascinating and somewhat surprising. Who knew that paper and pen still dominate private study?

  •             Books are used less often than computers (10% vs 23%)
  •             Computers are used less often than pen and paper ( 23% vs 65%)

Collaboration vs Solitude

 When Students are in the library...

             71% are working alone

            15% work in groups of 3 +

            10% work with one other person

Libraries Remain Important Gensler’s research suggests that some aspects of the traditional library must be retained for both symbolic and functional reasons.

Here are some of the findings:
  • Students still seek quiet places to study. 
  • Libraries remain students first choice for private study.
  • Library and university leaders have over estimated the need for collaboration space.
  • The solution is to increase the capacity of libraries without increasing space. 
  • Private study stations are occupied twice as much as open work areas.
  • Design classrooms for collaboration.
  • Design libraries for solitude.
I recognize that  the library's role as a book repository shrinking as digital resources expand exponentially. Yet, students still long for a quite place to think and study. I thought that perhaps earplugs created a sufficient zone of privacy for the current college generation.  Gensler says I am wrong.  When I was in college at Fordham University in the Bronx, the university library was a former church and I loved  studying in a space that was once a choir loft. I would climb up to the third tier and feel smarter from simply breathing the scent of  ancient scholars ... old leather and dust.

I have worried about a world in which there is no refuge from noise. I am in fact writing this at the Sherwood Hall  Regional Public Library in Alexandria, Virginia. It is quieter than a Walmart but noiser than a church. I hear the murmur of students receiving tutoring and people talking on their phones.  Every one of the 20 or so  public computer terminals is occupied. I am alone in the communal table area. It lacks the hush of scholarly reverence, yet I am delighted to see the robust traffic and hum of activity in a DC area library on the Sunday of a beautiful Cherry Blossom Weekend.

The Gensler study suggests that even when the last book has been digitized, the library will have a purpose as a  cathedral of solitude. When I considered what these future library carrels might look like, I recalled the scene in the movie "The Internship" where Vince Vaugh and  Owen Wilson as Google Interns  stumble noisily into their colleagues "sleep pods." 

c. Dunnco.com

Implications for Law Firms

Although firms remain committed to private offices for lawyers, the increased mobility and financial pressures to reduce real estate costs may lead some firms to consider hoteling and hot-desking to increase daily space utilization. The paradox may be that while law firm libraries are tossing their books and shrinking, the concept of libraries as bookless but quiet spaces for solitary study could get a second life in the law firm of the future. 






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