Thursday, July 29, 2010

King's College Maughan Library Tour

The final tour we took as part of this trip was to the King's College Maughan Library. For me, this tour held particular interest because I have done some exploring of the Franklin-Wilkins café and Information Services Centre, and also because of the way the library, housed in a quintessentially Victorian building, is adapting to current trends in library services to best meet the need of their 21st century users.

The Maughan Library holds 3/4 of a million items, has seating for about 1,000 students, and computer stations for about 300 students. The Library serves the Strand campus of King's College, and has close relationships with the University of London, among others, and extends access to affiliates of these universities. In addition to housing the Foyle Special Collections Library, the Library holds legal, music, humanities, and natural science materials, as well as films and audio recordings in various formats, all of which support the studies of students on the Strand campus.

The Library moved into its current home, the old Public Record Office building, in 2001. The building was designed to hold a large volume of paper-based materials, and consequently, its load-bearing capability did not have to be enhanced. Many restrictions applied to the renovation of the building, because of its age and historic importance, but the resultant spaces were very clean and tastefully decorated, if a little confusing to navigate.

The library is putting into place several further innovations in its services. They have already installed wi-fi in the building, and are in the process of implementing RFID technology and self-checkout stations, bringing staff away from service desks to provide roaming services, and creating more collaborative student work spaces to complement their silent study spaces. I was interested to see that these services were chosen for the mix of new services, because these are all innovations I have seen becoming widespread, not so much in university libraries, but in UK and US public libraries, which are generally well-attuned to their users' wants and needs and committed (budget permitting) to satisfying these needs.

Another innovation I noticed before visiting the library. As part of the research for my final paper, I had looked the King's College Libraries up online, and had discovered that they fell under the umbrella of Information Services Centres. This was a term I was unfamiliar with, so I looked it up: on the ISCs and Libraries webpage, it says

Information services centres (ISCs) and libraries, situated across all campuses, provide access to multi-disciplinary print and electronic information resources and local IT services.

I am intrigued by this concept: on one hand, it suggests that libraries are primarily providers of books, but it ties them in tightly information-related services that students will need and use. It would seem some other people are grappling with the idea: at Franklin-Wilkins, there is a white address label with "Library" written on it in green sharpie next to the ISC label on the building's floor directory. Part of the difficulty in innovations, even if they are good ones, is more than securing funding or staffing to remodel buildings and RFID tag books: people are used to the old way of doing things whether or not the old way is "best."

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