20.9 Case Studies 1: Architects, Librarians and Readers: Do the lines join up?

Dominique Ruhlman (Trinity Hall, Cambridge).

Dominique began by giving us some background relating to library provision at Trinity Hall.

The Old Library
William Bateman, Bishop of Norwich and the founder of Trinity Hall, Cambridge (1350) made provision in his will for the establishment of the first library – it was a modest collection of chained books in a small but secure room. By the late 16th century the library had outgrown its location and a purpose built Tudor brick library was erected – now known as “the Old Library”. The Old Library remained a chained library with books located on the first floor as a precaution against frequent flooding from the adjacent river Cam.

Jerwood Library
By the 20th Century it was clear that a new more modern undergraduate library was needed and Tristan Rees Roberts, himself a former Cambridge architecture student, was commissioned to work on the new library. The result was the Jerwood Library, opened in 1999 at a cost of just over 2 million with funding from the Jerwood Society. The architect faced a number of challenges – the site had been a small garden store next to the River Cam adjoining an existing building which provided residential accommodation and had a number of listed features. Despite the challenges, the result was an award winning wedged shaped 4 storey library overhanging the river Cam –it includes quiet study space, computer room, shelving for 30,000 books and study space for over 80 readers.

Is the Jerwood Library successful? Dominique, who was not involved in the original consultation process for the Jerwood Library, went on to present a candid view of both its successful and problematic features – she did this by drawing on her own observations as well as comments made in the library’s annual student surveys.

Successes
1. Students like the juxtaposition of old and new study spaces– particularly commenting on the ability to choose between studying in a traditional, silent and laptop- free reading room with stained oak furniture and glazed book shelves and the lighter and brighter IT enabled study space in the new extension.

2. Positive comments have also been received about the “quirky” nature of some of the library spaces, the brilliant views over the River Cam and the intimate “human scale” of the building.

3. The Top floor computer room is extremely popular and well used.

4. Students like the aesthetic elements of the space too, including the mixture of traditional and contemporary art work as well as an imaginative use of colour.

Problems
1. The entrance Foyer is not treated as part of the library by students and can be noisy.

2. Staff accommodation is limited and somewhat hidden.

3. Lack of storage space.

4. Overcrowding and no provision for group study space.

5. The building can be noisy – this is a result of both internal noise which travels easily through the building and external noise, particularly from the river punters.

6. The toilet provision is cramped and not ideally situated.

7. The windows are beautiful but can be draughty in the winter and their bespoke wooden blinds have proved to be less than robust and expensive to replace.

8. Both heating and lighting are controlled externally to the library and this has caused problems for 24 hour opening.

And Finally….
Dominique concluded by emphasising the need for a close relationship between library staff and designer and the need to choose an architect who understood the context of the library and was sympathetic to its needs as had been the case with their own designer. She also felt that any design, however inspiring and innovative it might be, must also focus on “human scale” and pay attention to the basic human needs and comfort of its future users.

Dominique ended her presentation with the statement that the real key to the success of a library is its staff – and it is essential that they are fully engaged even is their library building is less than perfect!

Review by: Joan Shaw, ARCLIB life member, formerly of John Moores University Liverpool

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