Library spaces for scholarship: facilitating research, partnerships, and innovation

This event was held virtually on 25 July 2023.

The physical library space has been traditionally valued by scholars and researchers as a place for quiet study and resource discovery, with easy access to information and expert support by its staff. In this era of rapid technological development and hybrid working, when the needs of scholars and researchers are changing, how do library spaces and services adapt to facilitate these?

Modern research library spaces are flexible and social spaces where different communities can meet, but also hubs of innovation providing unique learning experiences. Interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration are increasingly core parts of contemporary research projects which bring together professionals from different backgrounds to tackle complex questions and problems. What types of library spaces and places best support modern scholarship? What is attracting scholars in the physical space today, despite the abundance of digital services and resources? At this event we heard from two institutions on how they support scholars and researchers through their innovative spaces and services.

Sound and fury in Senate House Library: hosting the A Thousand Words for Weather audio installation
Pete Williams, Deputy Director, Services, Senate House Library

Between June 2022 and March 2023, Senate House Library hosted A Thousand Words for Weather, an ‘audio experience’ that probed the connection between the environment, language, sound and silence. A collaboration between London-based arts organisation Artangel, the University of London’s Institute of Language Culture and Society and the Library, the exhibition consisted of a sound piece put together by sound artist Claudia Molitor and the writer Jessica J. Lee along with listening posts situated throughout the Library which used data from the Met Office to create ambient sounds based on the weather outside. A book exhibition on the theme of weather and a programme of events and talks were organised to run alongside the installation.

A Thousand Words for Weather was an opportunity for a traditional library generally used for quiet study and research, and known primarily for its special collections and historic reading rooms, to reimagine its physical space by allowing it to be showcased in an innovative way. The installation, exhibition and the activities planned around them drew scholars and members of the public into the physical library who might otherwise never have visited, and the project gave library staff the chance to work in partnership with academic staff and to learn from art professionals. It also created practical challenges – including complaints and vandalism.

Pete describes the project and reflect on how the experience of hosting A Thousand Words for Weather is informing future plans for the development of the Library’s spaces.

Pete Williams is Deputy Director, Services, Senate House Library with responsibility for Customer Services, Space and Collections, Metadata and Acquisitions, and library services for students on Worldwide distance learning programmes. Previously he worked at Birkbeck, where he led a refurbishment project completed in 2019, and the University of East London, where he managed the award-winning Stratford Library for the first two years after it opened in 2013.

Newcastle University Library Space Development (R)evolution
Jenny Campbell, Head of Business and Management Services, Newcastle University Library

Jenny Campbell leads a large front-of-house Customer Services and Facilities division, who work across the extended 24/7 period. She has overall responsibility for leading on space management, planning and development across all university libraries and stores. She also chairs the library’s Health and Safety Committee and manages the team who run the University’s Print Room.

In her presentation, Jenny discussed current space development drivers across Newcastle University’s libraries and stores, share an outline of this summer’s projects, and consider future (and ongoing) space-related priorities.

About RLUK’s Space Programme

This meeting is part of RLUK’s Space Programme, a series of events and resources to explore and support its members around spatial redesign and capital-build projects. The programme provides a forum through which colleagues can share their knowledge and experience in a collegiate and supportive environment.

Previous events:

User experience and the research library space

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Research Library Space

Library spaces in the campus of the future 

Hybrid and blended working approaches and the role of space in libraries