Lille University Libraries are engaged in an ambitious renovation programme of the Humanities campus main library, to open in 2026. The 17,000 m² building was built in the 1970s and is now outdated and unsuitable for the changing needs of its patrons. This €44 million project is financed by the Regional Council, the French government, and by Lille Metropolitan Council. The architectural agency launched its work at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, but mostly worked on the final programme during the first lockdown (spring 2020), organizing several thematic meetings corresponding to the projected building’s functional structure. The project focuses on offering services to early career researchers, on providing collaborative educational spaces to the community, and on organising cultural events and exhibitions on a wider scale within the library.

The pandemic has raised many questions during the programming process. Remote working has been very unusual in french academic libraries but will probably remain a permanent trend. Regular offices have space for 3 to 5 workers within a safe distancing. As far as technical requirements are concerned, specific attention was paid to air quality in the building as this pandemic may be followed by others. All libraries were completely closed to the public from March 17th to July 6th, since then, booking is required, allowing students to socialize in a safe environment, to access our collections, and to use the library services, all things they sorely missed during the spring. When surveyed about their use of the library’s services and spaces during lockdown and curfew, they were overwhelmingly grateful of the simple fact of being allowed to come on site, even at a distance, and of being able to use the libraries facilities and collections. Moreover, they told us how eager they were to be able to access the currently closed facilities and services: cafeteria, cultural events and exhibitions, collaborative working spaces.

The architectural programme takes into account this desire for social interaction and facilitates spaces for meetings, gathering and collaboration. Events and exhibition venues as well as collaborative spaces for learning have to be flexible and adaptive, and ready for experimentation. We engage strongly with patrons, through focus groups aiming at faculty, students, and young researchers, to design the equipment, atmosphere and furnishing of the premises. Acknowledging that libraries are the humanities researchers’ laboratories, one of the major challenges of the renovated building will be to provide doctoral students and young researchers with premium services, ranging from free circulation in a part of the closed stack to  accommodating the University Press offices in the library building offering direct support in publishing their research. Support for data management and visualisation, as well as for structuratind digital outputs will be permanently available. The project will make digital and physical heritage collections more accessible. The pandemic has changed the concept of staff offices, reinforcing the collaborative and social aspects of the project, stressing the need for digital flexibility in the way the library supports its patrons, and re-imagining the interplay between the physical and digital use of our services and collection.


Laure Delrue,  Deputy Director of Libraries and Learning Centres, University of Lille

Reference: Delrue, L., (March 2021), Case study: Lille University – redesigning a humanities library during lockdown. Research Libraries UK.