Thursday, 22 February 2007

The library as a physical place

Yesterday Gilly and I attended the opening day for the new Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) library at Porterbrook in Sheffield. There has been a library here for some time but it has recently been relocated and expanded with the print material on open access shelving instead of cupboards and better facilities for accessing electronic materials.
The library is a resource for staff at the DWP in Sheffield and the north of England but the library is a SINTO member and are willing to help other libraries as far as is possible.

While I was there I had an interesting discussion about virtual vs physical libraries. The DWP library delivers much of its services to the desks of staff both in the same building and elsewhere in the country. At the same time they think it is important to have an attractive physical space. This is valuable to users who want to get away from their desks to do research and to find help. Also it sends an important message to top management and puts the library service "on the map". Decision makers in any organisation are often unclear about the exact role of the information service. While virtual services are increasingly important they can be invisible and perhaps a room full of books gives a stronger message.

In our region we do have some good examples of libraries as physical spaces. The Information Commons at the University of Sheffield will be opening soon. This may re-start the debate about what we should call ourselves. Is Information Commons just a fancy name for a library or does it create a positive new image? The Adsetts Learning Centre at Sheffield Hallam University was state-of-the-art when it was opened and is still an impressive building. Barnsley central library has recently reopened following a five-month refurbishment and a number of the college libraries in our area are worthy of a visit. SINTO is organising a visit to see the four new learning centres at Rotherham College of Arts & Technology town centre campus.

And what about Sheffield central library? Its an impressive building and one much loved by many Sheffielders. Inside there has been a great deal of work in recent years to make it more attractive. But even its friends would have to admit that it does not entice users in. Could more be done to make it seem an exciting place to go?

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