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Aix-Marseille Université, France
Contemporary buildings tend to reflect the new roles that libraries play and architectural programmes now generally include fully-equipped group study rooms, soft seating, innovative teaching labs, etc. How do older buildings respond to new uses and meet students’ needs? The medicine and dentistry university library in Marseilles was built in 1958 and extended in 1999. There were fewer end-users with vastly different needs, scarce sockets and there were simply no group study rooms.
This library belongs to a wider network of 18 Academic libraries scattered across 5 campuses. Over the past 3 years, several new equipment have emerged: an arts, literature and social sciences library came out of the ground, the law library and the economics library were both entirely refurbished, and a learning center was built on Luminy science campus. The health campus is an exception as no construction or renovation is scheduled for the near future. Yet the students attending any of the university facilities expect to be offered similar services in all locations. In order to keep up with the new uses and meet students’ needs, the medicine and dentistry library has launched action to remodel the library spaces and improve the users’ experience.
Users’ needs are identified through different methods based on UX Design:
- a qualitative survey of 400 advanced students was completed in the Spring of 2017. Several issues came to light: a poor seating capacity (less than 500 for 4 500 students who registered at the library; 18 000 students in the health department); students preempting seats by placing their belongings on them; noise coming from the librarians’ offices; opening hours. Students see the library as a remote extension of their personal living habitat.
- a LibQual+ survey was conducted in the Fall of 2018 in all the university libraries of Aix-Marseille Université. It was filled by 7122 respondents, 804 of whom being from the Health department (11%). 2315 comments were retrieved. The survey is made up of three sections: affect of service; information control, and library as place. The latter deepened our knowledge of the students’ expectations through the comments that were left.
A number of working groups were subsequently set up by library staff to address the following issues:
- Lack of seats/improper seat reservation;
- Spatial revamp;
- Library signage.
The group working on the lack of seats and improper seat reservation conducted a benchmarking study with other French libraries. As most medicine libraries are plagued with similar problems, some solutions have already been implemented, such as the creation of a “no reservation allowed” space. The same policy was enforced at the library in the fall of 2019.
Because of the extended seating capacity, some of the collections were reorganized or moved to the stacks. So far 28 seats have been added (i.e. an extra 5% of available seats).
The group dedicated to spatial revamp made some easy-to-follow recommendations: soft seating was introduced (“fatboys”); we intend to equip group study rooms and redesign the reference desks. Those projects come at a reasonable cost.
Library signage was almost non-existent but all the more necessary as the building consists of three levels and two wings. It was designed and set up in early 2020.
Although retaining some of the original shortcomings, today’s library is widely used, offering the largest opening hours of all AMU academic libraries. This provides evidence that librarians can be very creative and modernize library spaces while keeping the existing premises more or less intact.
This is still a work in progress: some assessment is still needed for some of these avenues (such as the no reservation allowed space) and some services are still to be designed, such as a modern training room.
This poster will hopefully provide an opportunity to discuss those issues with librarians facing the very challenge of adapting an old building to new uses.
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