Angela Cutts & Emma Batchelor (Faculty of Education, Cambridge).
Angela Cutts & Emma Batchelor. The importance of librarians’ involvement in library design. Image: Carla Marchesan.
Angela and Emma presented their experience of producing one unified library out of three previously separate collections. Angela’s background is educational libraries and Emma’s is art and design libraries.
The overall challenge was to imagine the possible space, and the brief was to design a single building housing the three existing libraries and which assimilates a large cohort of students. There were three main groups contributing to this design: Architects, Librarians and Faculty staff, all, or each, having their own take on a pervading theme in most of the talks: beauty versus function. Though, as many were quick to point out, this need not be a strict dichotomy.
The completed building was opened in 2005 and the design described as exhibiting ‘bold angles and curves’. In the finished construction it appeared that the slight difference in agenda of the three groups had led to certain conflicts, one example being the internal perimeter ramp around the library space connecting the lower areas to the upper. This loses shelf space and its function could perhaps have been achieved more effectively. Clapham public library (Studio Egret West, 2012) followed a similar form. In Clapham, however, the walls along the gentle outside curve of the ramp were lined with full height functioning shelves, whereas in the Faculty of Education building (Building Design Partnership, 2005) this space was used as more of an exhibition space for books, making them relatively inaccessible. Similarly, the spaces under the ramp, originally intended as carrels, were too small for such use, though fulfilled a role as much needed storage space.
Communication between the groups is always vital in such design projects and we need reminding of this. Shelf space was precisely specified (2 000 linear metres at a between shelf vertical height of >30cm to accommodate the format particular to such collections), and yet not heeded in the final result. The practical solution of removing a shelf and redistributing the space led to fewer linear metres than required and the necessity of introducing rolling stacks.
Popular features included the long study benches, the spacing between the shelf units was good and the sound proofing for external noise was excellent. The staff would also have liked locker space outside the library, more space behind the issue desk (so often, so easily and so short-sightedly sacrificed for so many other interests!) and better internal sound proofing.
The comments from students have been positive: they like the lack of reliance on fluorescent lighting and the abundance of natural light and views; they appreciate the mix of study space designs; the staff are helpful and supportive; and they find that the design opens the mind and inspires, which neatly connects back to the opening talk by Dr Kimbriel.
Angela and Emma-Jane were warmly thanked for this enlightening and practical insight into their beautiful library.
Review by: Philip Pearson, Courtauld Institute of Art