Wellington Campus Library: New Space, New (and old) Ways of Working

May 5, 2015

Craig Cherrie, Creative Arts & Industries Librarian at the Wellington Campus, reflects on the changes to the Wellington Campus Library:

​Half-a-semester on from the occupation of the full space of the ‘new’ Wellington Library, its timely to reflect on its reception to date by its prime users – students and academic staff.

Common wisdom is that it takes at least 12 months to ‘realise’ a space – people need time to explore and adapt, find their niche. The building itself also requires fine tuning – and there’s plenty of that still continuing with the building systems and fabric. Space, as any 2nd year spatial design student will tell you, is ‘socially produced’ and it’s been interesting to observe the various productions to date. Initially many looked for the familiar – a PC station with an ergonomic chair, or a quiet spot to retreat to.  The more adventurous though started to play early on with different ways of inhabiting the place – perching on the ‘bar stools’ at the high benches, reconfiguring the tub chairs and laptop tables into intimate collaborations, tacking sheets up on clear white walls for ad hoc design sessions, or putting together their own, laid-back solo space – all facilitated by the improved, pervasive wifi and ever-present MacBook’s.

Others moved around like refugees for a period until they found their ideal niche and now head to it on a very regular basis. Some want to be both apart but also within a broader study ambience. There are even a few (a small minority) who are now favouring the distinctly old school environment of the Mezzanine. (No funds were available to develop this so it continues its 1970s grey, grungy feel and very retro, individual Formica study carrels – though brightened by new C21st LED lighting).

The ambient architectural design – robust, assertive, not hiding the base brutalism – has generally met favour and will we hope prove fairly timeless though there are a few who have lamented the lack of ‘proper’ finishing.  But the conveyed narrative of hotter colours (orange, green …) signifying more active, noisier space contrasting with cooler whites and greys as quieter, more reflective space has worked well.  Implied tikanga is largely observed and self-policed and we have kept to our ideal of no behavioural signage. There are always a few who want to preserve their early experience of a totally quiet library but that is not the 21st collaborative ethos. And we do have quieter space if they ask.

Photo: Oliver Ward, SV Associates

Photo: Oliver Ward, SV Associates

The environmental graphics – large swathes of words or very disrupted, almost abstracted text on walls – has not excited as much comment as I expected – maybe its all expected on the ‘creative campus’? When pressed though most volunteer that these do contribute to a stimulating, ‘cool’ or creative feel. For those who do ask me about them the graphics open up conversations about matters bicultural, or approaches to building knowledge in their academic pursuits.  And the abstracted text has become our edgy brand that we can use on temporary signs.

Stairwell connecting the Library floors. Photo: Oliver Ward, SV Associates

Photo: Oliver Ward, SV Associates

Students are not only coming in greater numbers but also from my observation, staying longer. Recently my colleague Lauren Deacon and I presented a week long series of core information literacy  sessions to all (380+) first year College of Creative Arts (CoCA) students in the old Museum building. I began each session by asking who had been to the Library; a reassuring 99% answered in the affirmative which wouldn’t have been the case a year ago.  And the fact that they’re around more has resulted in more frequent requests for assistance. I have never experienced such a sustained level of Semester One research-related demands – from first and fourth years in particular. It was exhausting but rewarding. The ‘Service bar’ design has probably contributed to this. Students tell me they like the height and the bar-like feel which affords a less intimidating sidle up to us compared with the former sit down, low service counter. I often zip around the other side to lean on the bar with them for a less formal, reference interview type exchange.

Academic staff volunteer that they like spending time in the place. More are coming to hang out, view new materials and this offers opportunities to engage with them. One CoCA staff member has even been using the lounge spaces to run informal  tutorial sessions.

So initial indicators are positive and reassuring. The Library seems to be starting to contribute more solidly to its planned role as one of the critical elements of the work-in-progress that is the Pukeahu campus heart.

Photo: Oliver Ward, SV Associates

Photo: Oliver Ward, SV Associates

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