RLUK’s Space Programme is a series of events and resources for RLUK members to explore issues 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.

The programme is steered by a Programme Committee, whose current members are:

  • Christina Kamposiori, Executive Programme Officer, RLUK
  • Katy Woolfenden, Associate Director: Faculty and Student Partnerships, University of Manchester Library
  • David Wright, Associate Director for User Experience, University of Southampton Library
  • Pete Williams, Deputy Director, Services, Senate House Library
  • Maria Vardaki, Administration Manager, Library, Academic Services, Royal Holloway University of London Library
  • Liz Gardner, Head of Client Services, University of Warwick Library
  • Sarah Newbold, Associate Director (Students and Learning), University of Bristol Library
  • Jane Cooke, Associate Director, Research, Content and Discovery, University of Liverpool

RLUK Space events are held throughout the year. They are normally held virtually, are free to attend and are open to all colleagues from across the sector that have a professional interest in the issues discussed. You do not have to be from an RLUK Member institution to participate.

Previous events:

Library spaces as research and cultural infrastructure

Library spaces play an integral role as research and cultural infrastructure within their scholarly, student, and other local communities. They do not only provide access to a variety of special, heritage and other type of collections, but also constitute places of knowledge production and innovation. Moreover, they are increasingly places that support collaboration, social interaction, and community wellbeing. The design of new library buildings and spaces or the refurbishment of existing ones often reflect this multi-faceted role of the modern research library.

This event shows how libraries respond to the challenge of designing or re-developing spaces to provide the infrastructure that supports scholarship and learning, brings communities together, and facilitates encounters with cultural heritage collections. The case studies discuss the requirements for developing such spaces, including the opportunities and barriers relevant projects present.

Opening up space and collections: the Main Library redevelopment at University of St Andrews

In 2021, 50% of the collections kept in the Main Library in central St Andrews were moved to a new purpose-built facility at Guardbridge, 4 miles out of town. From having been in closed stacks in the library basement, all of these collections were then available on open shelves to researchers. The release of space in town paved the way for a redevelopment of the basement level including the creation of 400 additional high quality study spaces. As well as upgrading the fundamental infrastructure of the building, a variety of spaces in which to carry out research and encounter collections were created. The redevelopment was completed in spring 2023 and the new spaces have now been in operation for a year.

Emma Wisher is Assistant Director, Academic Engagement and Student Experience, and Deputy Director of Libraries and Museums at St Andrews. Her interests are in user-centred service and space design and organisational development.

Reimagining the National Library of Ireland
Brian O’Donnell, Deputy Director & Head of Estates at the National Library of Ireland, will give a quick tour of recent developments in a continuing effort to upgrade and expand cultural service spaces and staff support areas at the library.
Brian is a conservation architect, and Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland. He joined the National Library of Ireland (NLI) as Head of Estates in 2019, and member of the NLI Senior Management Team, and is now also the Deputy Director. His role includes Future Planning, Estate Management, Sustainability, Disaster Planning as well as Security within his remit. He is a member of the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL) Security Working Group (SWG).

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

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.

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.

User experience and the research library space: current practices and approaches

Transforming research library spaces to meet the needs of diverse user communities has been an important part of the strategic agenda of many institutions over the past few years. As a response to the demand for user-friendly, flexible and innovative spaces to support academics, students, and other community members, new buildings have emerged and existing spaces have been renovated or repurposed across several research libraries.

This event looks at the current practices and approaches employed by institutions to enhance the way users experience the research library space; from facilitating learning and scholarship to offering new ways to engage with collections. Presentations focused on recently completed or on-going projects, the opportunities they present for institutions as well as the challenges that designing with the user experience in mind entails.

Pride of place: the Research Collections Study Centre at the Old Library of Trinity College Dublin
Laura Shanahan, Head of Research Collections, Trinity College Dublin

Trinity College Dublin is in the throes of the enabling phase of the redevelopment of its iconic Old Library, home to the famous Long Room and the Book of Kells. The Old Library is also home to the wealth of other outstanding historic, and contemporary, unique and distinct collections, and accommodates researchers and students from home and abroad wishing to access to this material in a reading room in the upper pavilion. As part of the redevelopment project, a new Study Centre and seminar space will be located, instead, on the ground floor, taking the full north side of the Old Library. This is pride of place on campus – facing out onto its main public square, in a welcoming, awe-inspiring environment, befitting the significance of the collections. Laura presents on the current plans for the new Study Centre, and place this space in the context of a multi-stakeholder building.

Head Space in the Library – using UX and student partnership to develop the research space
Carly Sharples, Head of User Experience, University of East Anglia.

This presentation focused on the recent creation of a new space for students in UEA Library, and also explored some of the UX activities we have undertaken to better understand our student usage and needs within our library spaces. ‘Head Space’ was an initiative that arose from student feedback regarding the need for quiet and calm student spaces on campus. It was originally conceived as a wellbeing room, but this brief developed into a much more open, student-directed relaxation space. It has since become the inspiration for creating other student-orientated spaces on campus.

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Research Library Space

Research libraries can have a transformative impact on scholarship, research, and learning through their collections and expertise of their staff. However, it is their physical and virtual spaces that constitute the places where ideas are conceived and knowledge is created and shared by diverse communities.

As part of placing greater focus on equality, diversity, and inclusion, research libraries are increasingly concerned with making these spaces more inclusive through responding to their communities’ diverse needs. Yet, how do we design and develop spaces which are accessible and champion equality through encouraging different voices to be heard?

This event, that was held on 1 December 2022, aimed to showcase how research libraries are designing and reinventing their buildings and spaces with the aim of becoming more inclusive places where people from various backgrounds can work, explore, and learn.

Launching a Family Study Room at the University of York Library
Kirsty Lingstadt, Director of Library, Archives and Learning Services at the University of York
David Brown, Academic Liaison Librarian at the University of York

In this presentation we’ll explore the development of our Family Study Room at the University of York Library. We’ll consider the origins of the room as the winner of our student innovation competition, LibInspo, and explain how we worked with students with children and various other stakeholders to make the space a reality. We’ll provide an overview of the development of the room including our planning and design process and we’ll provide some early feedback from students with children during our initial review period.

Making the library a space where everyone belongs and can contribute to our distinctiveness
Phil Cheeseman, Associate Director for Academic Services in the Library, Lancaster University

In April 2021, Lancaster University Library opened a new extension, providing additional study space as well as dedicated spaces to support teaching, research and engagement activities. Concurrent with this we launched our new vision, The Library Towards 2025, which places Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the heart of all we do; with a commitment to connect, innovate and include.

This presentation will share our experiences of using the new spaces, the opportunities they have provided for new connections and partnerships, the actions we’ve taken to be more inclusive and how we celebrate our diverse communities.

Accessibility in Library Services: a holistic approach to an accessible campus
Oliver Ireson, Head of Learning Space Development, University of Birmingham

Oliver will be giving an accessibility-focussed tour of the new main library building at the University of Birmingham, before widening the scope to discuss how those principles of inclusion are applied to various other student-facing services across campus.

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

This seminar features three presentations focusing on the impact the recent shift in working practices has had on the design and use of library spaces, both physical and digital, and the implications for their development and running. The speakers share their experiences about how the change in working places and environments has affected the roles and practices of library and information professionals in their institutions and the way they deliver user services.

Creating spaces online for study and developing physical places for online interactions
Ben Meunier, UCL Library, Culture, Collections and Open Science

In this session, UCL Library Services describes experimental work undertaken between winter 2020 and 2022 to respond to the needs of Library users. The first part of the session looks at the development of virtual learning spaces for UCL students and researchers, responding to different ways of learning. The presentation summarises key findings from a joint research project between UCL Library Services, Information Services Division and the UCL Interaction Centre. The second part of the session charts the early findings from a research project underway to re-think the library spaces and create truly inclusive places to access online resources. The aim of the project is to understand how, as well as creating suitable space within the library for participating in online sessions, the library can redevelop spaces in ways which are accessible and welcoming to all students and researchers.

Hybrid working and staff spaces: implementing hybrid working at the University of Manchester Library and how this has impacted on design plans for staff spaces
Sandra Bracegirdle and Olivia Walsby, University of Manchester Library

This presentation looks at how hybrid working has been introduced at University of Manchester and how the Library has managed this process for its own staff. This includes the management of spaces, the use of team charters, staff engagement, collaborative spaces as well as the issues and challenges we have faced. We also discuss how this has impacted on our plans for current and new staff spaces.

Blending the Best of Both Worlds: The Hybrid Working Journey at the University of Glasgow
William Nixon, Assistant Director, Digital Strategy (Library Services), University of Glasgow Library

This talk provides an overview of the approach and principles the University of Glasgow has adopted to support hybrid working. The University Library, as part of Information Services, is exploring the impact and options of work, space and the delivery of services and content. William is a member of the Information Services Hybrid/Modern Desktop Working Group which is exploring new hardware (and related space) needs for staff and their roles.

Library spaces in the campus of the future

The future of the research library is open and inclusive, while state-of-the-art technology is an integral part of the way services are developed and spaces are experienced. The potential of digital and remote technologies to facilitate collaboration and synergies around collections transforms the way these are accessed and used, facilitating scholarship and learning, and empowering communities. However, in a future where research and education is increasingly digital and working practices are hybrid or virtual, what is the distinct role of library space as well as its form?

Developing a vision for library spaces requires taking into account a variety of factors, such as the role and requirements of collections, the behaviour and needs of the library community as well as societal and environmental challenges and the impact of the latest technological advancements on research, learning, and professional practices. How do we plan strategically for the future of the library space? How do our current strategies shape its future form and purpose? How will researchers, students, and other user communities experience library space in the campus of the future? These are some of the questions RLUK explored during this event which focused on (re-)imaging the physical and digital library space of the future.

Library Space as a reflection of University Strategy
Jeremy Upton, Director of Library and University Collections, University of Edinburgh

Slow and fast change: planning the future of University of Leeds Libraries’ student spaces
Michael Fake, Associate Director: Student Learning & Experience, University of Leeds Libraries

A UK approach to the collective retention of print monographs: space, preservation and access
Jane Saunders, Associate Director: Content and Discovery, University of Leeds Libraries and Sandra Bracegirdle, Associate Director: Collection Strategies, The University of Manchester Library