Library as a place

Do you remember the predictions that the Internet would – among many other things – mean the decline of the library as a place and space? Who would need to visit a library when they had 24/7 access to information?

What happened and is happening is that in academic libraries the need for space for users had increased while the need for space for collections has decreased. Our library (as a place) users are mainly students – as teachers and researchers can use the library online from their offices and hardly ever need the library as a place – and they have many expectations, even demands, for libraries as learning spaces. Though almost unlimited access to information is a fact, students need places for group work and other means of collaboration.

Our three libraries are at different phases of the change and we are all extremely interested in new library spaces including among others their furnishings and colors, acoustics and lightning, flexibility and usability.

BMH Library in Trondheim

The Medicine and Health Library (BMH) is a new and radical collaboration project in Norway, initiated by the department in 2009 as a joint project between NTNU and HiST. Together we have established an integrated library for medicine and health science; to support new technologies and new forms of learning, and deliver better and more efficient services. The library is not a merger of two institutions, but rather a community of practice, where we cooperate on the physical library and the user services.

To plan a “library for the future” is a demanding process. Our focus was on flexibility in physical space and user involvement. This was taken care of through user studies, the latest one carried out in 2012 as a focus group study with four group interviews; two groups consisting of students and two of staff members from both institutions. The results show some significant differences between students and staff, but minor differences between the two institutions. This was valuable input to the planning process, and a benchmark to use in the evaluation of the new library.

The main findings showed that students want a traditional library with long opening hours. They need different areas in the library; quiet areas for group and individual study and noisier areas for relaxing. As they are using the library for longer periods, they are concerned about quality of air, light, large windows, and spaciousness. For students it is important with access to printers, copiers, computers and enough sockets. Students use the space – not the library personnel. They are self-reliant, but see the benefit from library courses and classes. Staff on the other hand rarely visit the library; they use mail or telephone to order books and articles. They want a good library website and librarians that can assist if needed, and they have strong emphasize on equal access for both institutions to information resources. They also demand library courses and classes – both for themselves and for their students. It is interesting that staff see the library as a place for the dissemination of the research of institutions.

BMH opened in 2014. It is located at the Knowledge Center in the middle of the University hospital area. So far, the library seems to be a success, with heavy use from student groups from both institutions (two people are sitting on every chair each day!) and from staff members that we have not seen in the library for many years. We believe that the recipe for success with library planning is cooperation with all parties involved – students, other library users, architects, hospital planners and last but not least, ICT people.

 Some facts: 1500 square meters over two floors, serves 3000 students and 11000 staff members. The library offers areas for group- and individual work approximately 300 chairs, 40 computers for students, space for teaching, arrangements and events. Parts of BMH is open 24/7 and staffed 55 hours a week. We are 18 employees, 8 student assistants and 5 students responsible for ICT support.

Some facts: 1500 square meters over two floors, serves 3000 students and 11000 staff members. The library offers areas for group- and individual work approximately 300 chairs, 40 computers for students, space for teaching, arrangements and events. Parts of BMH are open 24/7 and staffed 55 hours a week. We are 18 employees, 8 student assistants and 5 students responsible for ICT support.

Kuopio University Hospital Medical Library in Kuopio

Planning and designing a library today is not easy as one should be able to predict the future and anticipate how tomorrow’s students will use the library. One way to look to the future is to try to maximize flexibility with for example light and movable furniture and partition walls. Already, students should be allowed to remould their study environment.

KUH Medical Library will move to new premises inside the hospital and nothing except the collections — though strongly reduced merely to the core — from the current library will be brought to the new one. At the moment, the new library space can only be seen on paper and some 3D illustrations but in January the brand new KUH Medical Library should open.

Entrancce to new KUH medical library, illustration

Entrance to new KUH medical library, illustration

There will be less square meters (404,5) than in the current one (468,7) but they will be organized more efficiently to provide space for reading, using computers, doing group work, browsing both printed and electronic collections, a circulation area without a traditional desk, and offices for library staff. The library personnel is excited about the new space and is working in mutual understanding with the architect. Also students, hospital staff members and faculty have been consulted and are always welcome to the planning meetings.

UCL library of the Health sciencesin Brussels

The UCL library of the Health sciences is located in the main administrative building of the university medical campus. The building was built in the 1970’s years and is made of concrete. The library is located on the first floor of the building. Its is a large open space, with concrete walls, ceilings and pillars, and carpet on the concrete floor. It currently seats 88 people, at single table places or in little study booths (hosting maximum two people). This amount is obviously insufficient with 6000 medical students.

UCL BSS reading room

UCL BSS reading room

Library as a place is nowadays an important question at UCL. Therefore, the university sent an expert to take part in ISO working group dedicated to Information and documentation — Qualitative conditions and basic statistics for library buildings — Space, function and design (technical report issued in 2012). UCL librarians currently prepare an internal report about their needs in terms of buildings, library space and users places. Trends observed at BMH library match UCL library a priori needs:

  • traditional library with long opening hours
  • quiet areas for group and individual study  (noisier areas for relaxing are probably also needed, but maybe not hosted by the library)
  • light, large windows, and spaciousness
  • access to printers, copiers, computers and enough sockets

The current users of the physical library are mainly students. On the contrary, staff rarely visit the library. They are, however, the library services users, even if they are not aware of it because they do not use the library as a place:

  • virtual serials collection
  • ILL and article copy provision
  • information literacy tuition
  • support in recording their scientific production in university database DIAL
  • and some other support to research activity (e.g. bibliometrics, specific databases use).

Other questions are currently under examination at UCL libraries, about, e.g.

  • computers:

– do library users need to access public computers (are they all IT equipped or do they need to use library IT devices)? – how to give users enough plugs for their library work on own devices? – wifi or wired internet access?

  • desk and loan:

– which activities for librarians at the desk? – automation of tasks like loans and return, buying photocopy credit, etc.?

  • acoustics and shushing:

– how to fit out the library space to muffle the surroundings? – does the library need to be totally silent?

Results should be communicated to the university management during 2015 year.

Visiting each others’ libraries, and also some other libraries, as a part of the benchmarking project has been useful for all of us. It has given us a chance to see and discuss the differences and similarities in the use of the library space — often very practical information — and a wider perspective to library space planning than we had before.

Interviewing library users

We have had fun when talking to users of the BMH library. We asked them three questions that are related to their use of the library space.

Our questions were:

  1. What do you use this library for?
  2. Why do you (study/read/work/group work) right here?
  3. Where would you study if the library did not exist?

We have chosen eight different spots or areas and talked to individual users, pairs of users and groups of users. All the people we approached were happy to participate in our small interview.

People were reading lecture notes and other study material, discussing/talking, writing lab reports and research papers, doing group work, searching for information, using library and own books, using own laptops and library computers.



They appreciated the comfort of the furniture, the satisfactory silence level — not too silent, not too noisy — and the possibility to work together. The availability of computers and reference material were mentioned as well.

If the library did not exist, most of them would have chosen to stay at home instead of for example the “too silent” reading rooms.

It will be interesting to find answers to the same questions in the two other libraries.

First impressions at NTNU

Site visits have started in Trondheim, Norway. What an excellent place and time to start!

Our first site is the NTNU and HiST medical and health library (BMH) where we began the week by making a schedule for the week with several appointments with some key persons.

As the BMH is brand new, and we all are very interested in library space planning, we took an extensive tour in the modern library. That gave the visiting members of the group many very useful tips about e.g. furniture and lightning.


Karen’s office with luxury Capisco chair and collection of conference badges.


View from third floor down to the desk at second floor.


Library class room with adjustable and movable teacher’s desk and smart board.

Chair testing

Student reading room with multifunctional chair.

Chair test

Testing chairs.

Under desk

Benchmarking and photographing RFID equipment.

Sofa area

Student reading comfortably.


Area for studying and group working in the BMH library.

Studying area equipped with anatomy material

Studying area equipped with anatomy material.


Library service desk

Entrance area

Multipurpose entrance area with new books and sofa group.


BMH library has a lot of light.

Group work room

There are 12 group work rooms in the library. Five of them are accessible 24/7.


Third floor east wing, area for studying and book collection.


Orakel = Oracle. They have been providing ICT support to library users for 51 years already.

Various library materials

Various library materials: games, videos, textbooks.

Sofa corner

Library offers comfortable areas with sofas and armchairs.

Quiet area with comfortable chairs.

Comfortable chairs for quiet reading.

Area for group work with two group work rooms behind.

Area for group work with two group work rooms behind.

Another way to arrange an area for group work.

Another way to arrange an area for group work.

View from the Knowledge Center elevator.

View from the Knowledge Center elevator.

We then discussed the information literacy training — courses, lectures and user support — in BMH with Senior Research Librarian Jan Ove Rein, and got a good picture of how it is organized and conducted for both the faculty and the hospital.

Marketing library and its services is also an interesting topic for us all. In BMH marketing — thanks to Karina K. Bjørkedal — is professional and effective. We were unanimous that it is important that the library staff goes to the customer, and is visible also in places out of the library, such as faculty meetings.