Active Sitting at the Library

by Louise Dahlberg


At Umeå University Library located in northern Sweden, a team working in library facilities has conducted several User Experience[1] (UX) studies to understand user behaviour and needs. The findings provided useful data and showed that many students use the spaces for lengthy time periods and that the furniture provided did not meet their needs. The results demonstrated that rethinking space planning at the Library was required. The solution was perceived to be the provision of ergonomic work stations which would improve the work environment and function as a relaxing setting for the user to unwind. The desired goal was furniture to be used for studying that would not impact negatively on the body. The end result would be workspaces that were creative, fun, useful, comfortable and productive and part of general health awareness thinking in relation to ergonomics.

Learning from User Behaviour: Guerrilla Research

Feedback from users on flip boards placed in the Library. Photo: Louise Dahlberg

The team at Umeå University Library made observations and undertook guerrilla interviews which are easy and efficient. Guerrilla interviewing[2] involves asking interviewees on the spot if they might be able to respond to a few questions. It is an inexpensive way of gaining reliable insights into user behaviour.  Impromptu but rigorously planned questions seek immediate feedback into use of a specific library area or service. Best of all, it does not require extensive work in market segmentation or sampling because people are chosen randomly on the spot. Graffiti walls were also used to record the feedback from users. It is a simple and  low-cost method consuming minimal resources.  A query can be placed on a big flip board located in the targeted library space on which feedback is sought.  Users can answer highlighted questions.

Think Like a Patron

Another way of noting users’ actions and engagement with services and the library environment is to observe people and surroundings from a patron perspective, that is, think or act like a patron. Questions on areas to be observed are developed. The observer blends in with the environment, absorbs the setting and discovers the library’s strengths and flaws. At Umeå University Library, observers sat in quiet areas at the library for about twenty minutes at a time and wrote down their observations. Some of the questions considered were:

Is there an electricity outlet nearby? Everyone knows that this is the most important part of choosing a study space, right?

Is the room actually quiet?

Does the lighting work for me?

Can I easily find the bathroom or see other signs where I am sitting?

How effective is the ventilation?

Does the space feel safe?

Are there any staff about?

There are many interesting questions that could be asked, and it is important to focus on the outcomes from the beginning so that the resulting data can be easily handled.  Is the ambience the major area of investigation? Or wayfinding and signage?

What do Library Users Really Do?

Evidence-based practice has become very important in libraries and monitoring user behaviour through qualitative and quantitative research is vital to developing ideas for service improvement. The Track the Traffic (TTT) method[3] where traffic in the library is monitored and activity measured is an extremely useful approach.  Questions are devised:

Where are users sitting?

How do users move and interact with spaces and library staff?

How often do users seek assistance and which library services are they using?

Using the TTT method, it was observed that many students regularly visit the silent reading rooms during the day but seemed to abandon them at night, moving closer to the main information desk which is located near the entrance and staffed during all opening hours. This was an interesting observation to consider when thinking about the environment. Such observations must be followed up with interviews or other survey methods to help determine the reasons for users’ choices and to investigate why users were moving closer to the circulation desk during the evenings. The TTT method was a great way to start gathering information. It is easy to think one knows how library users behave but watching what they do often provides surprisingly new and unexpected insights.

During another session watching what students were doing, a student placed a chair on a desk and then his laptop on the chair. Placing one piece of furniture on another was an interesting and puzzling choice.  When questioned about his behaviour, the student explained that he was seeking to produce a situation where he could stand and work with his laptop as no adjustable desks were provided. The observation was a revelation to library staff and led to the realization that many students today think more about how they work in regard to their health. They do not wish to sit and work all day in the same position but want to adopt varied stances while working, standing or sitting, throughout the day.  The Library realized that additional ergonomic work stations for users must be incorporated into the space.

Active Sitting in the Library

Exercise balls, office bike and adjustable desks at Umeå University Library. Photo: Louise Dahlberg

Careful examination of the data from the various studies of user experiences revealed that many students were sitting in the Library for more than eight hours a day and some for over ten hours. It is important to have appropriate furniture and settings for extended hours of work. More and more students wrote comments on the graffiti walls and mentioned in the guerrilla interviews that they would like adjustable desks in the library where they could modify desks for standing up to work, and then lowering them when they felt like sitting for a while.

Understanding these needs led to moving beyond adjustable desks to the concept of active sitting and ergonomic thinking. New purchases were made including adjustable desks; ergonomic standing plates; exercise balls; balance plates; office bikes; and new lounge chairs and plants to provide an inviting relaxing space.

Much has changed in thinking about standing versus sitting for long hours of the day and new approaches must be applied to students’ work and wellbeing. Students often have hectic schedules with intense, focused work in particular time periods.  It is important to encourage everyone to be flexible in the positions they choose for studying and working and to help people choose active and fun ways of sitting and/or standing.


After the ergonomic work stations were introduced, a small evaluation was undertaken to gain feedback from users. Flip boards were placed next to the ergonomic bikes and exercise balls.  Very positive responses were recorded. Some comments were that the users wanted more and differently-sized ergonomic devices.  Users applauded the changes in the study environment. Some comments indicated that while students did not use the ergonomic plates, desks or bikes themselves, they were glad that others could use them. Some users also took the liberty to point out that they wanted longer opening hours and that the library needed a better ventilation system.

By using varied methods to observe user experiences, the Library secured the feedback needed to appreciate the library space’s imperfections and to obtain the basis for focusing on creative and inspiring improvements.

Exercise balls, office bike and adjustable desks at Umeå University Library. Photo: Louise Dahlberg

Author details

Louise Dahlberg is a librarian at Umeå University Library and works in the department of Customer Services. Louise is currently a member of the Standing Committee of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section. She has also been a Board member of the Västerbotten province regional section of the Swedish Library Association.



[1]Priestner, Andy. User experience (UX) 2017. Accessed 10 June 2018

[2] Rezende, Maria (2017) Guerilla research: quick, not dirty Accessed 3 July 2018

[3] Høivik, Tord. “Tracking the traffic in modern libraries”. Journal of Library Administration, 54:6, 529-541, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2014.953396


Innovative Partnerships: a Strategic Imperative: a report

by David Potts

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The IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Midyear Seminar, Innovative Partnerships: a Strategic Imperative was kindly hosted by the Library of Birmingham on 23 February 2018. David Potts, Director, Library Resources at the Library of Birmingham describes the event.

Challenges Everywhere are the Same

The IFLA Buildings & Equipment Section seminar at the Library of Birmingham ( was a fantastic opportunity to learn about library design developments from all over the world. The range of libraries covered included public libraries, academic libraries, and even joint public/academic libraries. There were delegates and contributors from places such as the USA, Canada, Australia as well as the UK. It was interesting to me to hear however great the geographical distance, the challenge of meeting the requirements and aspirations of users with innovative but practical design is a constant.

Naming Libraries

Another interesting trend appears to be how libraries are being named. We had presentations from libraries called The Eye, The Hive, The Word, The Diamond, The Link and The Storyhouse. Nomenclature in all its manifestations is something with which I have long been fascinated. Are there any conclusions to be drawn from the ‘L’ word being so often omitted? I’m not sure, but it is becoming increasingly more common.

The Library of Birmingham

Delegates were invited to tour the Library of Birmingham and it was my great honour to give a short introductory presentation. Visitors are always interested in the architecture which is great, but it was also a brief opportunity for me to talk about the services we provide and the unique collections we hold, including Shakespeare treasures.


Meeting Colleagues

As ever with events like this, it was lovely to meet colleagues with whom I have worked over the years from all over the UK and beyond. It was really fascinating to hear the varied work they continue to do in relation to library design. We were delighted to host this IFLA event and hope everyone enjoyed their experience in the Library of Birmingham. We hope to see everyone again very soon!

Further reading

BBC News. ”Birmingham library: ‘No sour grapes’ at Stirling Prize” 17 October 2014.  Viewed 3 July 2018

Amy Frearson “Library of Birmingham by Mecanoo”  29 August 2013 De Zeen.  Viewed 3 July 2018

Author details

David Potts is Head of Library Resources at the Library of Birmingham. He was appointed in 2013 and his portfolio includes responsibility for information and communications technology, archives, venue hire and building operations. Before taking up his current post, David was responsible for leading ICT and Transformation at Birmingham with previous positions in libraries in London and Walsall.







The Hive at Five: From Design to Delivery

by Laura Worsfold and Sarah Pittaway

ifla heading

The IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Midyear Seminar, Innovative Partnerships: a Strategic Imperative was kindly hosted by the Library of Birmingham on 23 February 2018. A paper on the ground-breaking Hive Library in Worcester was presented at the seminar.

hivelaura                         librarydesignawardlaura

The Hive at Five: From Design to Delivery[1]


In the last six years, we have had the great privilege of opening, delivering and leading The Hive ( in Worcester; home to Europe’s first integrated public and university library, Worcestershire’s Archives & Archaeology Service and Worcestershire County Council’s Customer Service Hub. Over the past five years, the award-winning[2] building has had many prestigious visitors, including Her Majesty the Queen, who officially opened the building in 2012. Having celebrated our fifth birthday in July 2017, and after a recent visit earlier this month by John Glen, then Minister for Libraries, it seemed an opportune moment to reflect on the original vision and how the innovative model has helped transform both university and county library services in Worcester.

hive6 hive7

Design and Vision

The project was ten years in the making and came about as a result of the University of Worcester needing a new library and Worcestershire County Council’s need to move out of an old Victorian building. A site, formerly the council’s waste collection site, was identified and talks began. The partnership between the university and the county is unique and due to the huge commitment on both sides, The Hive came into being. The site was of great archaeological significance and there was a lengthy consultation period covering everyone from board members and governors down to key target groups; students, children and families, schools, disabled communities and businesses, to name but a few. The consultation included staff who were fully involved at all stages of the process.

The Hive is a £60million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and the client was involved in every stage of the design and construction which is extremely unusual in the PFI sector. The team consisted of representatives on both sides.

A design statement was developed:

A destination in itself. The building should inspire, excite and welcome, but not intimidate through a sense of grandeur or self-importance.

The vision of a truly integrated building and service remains true and although challenging at times, the partnership still adheres to its original vision, values and principles.

Service Delivery and Impact

Since opening in 2012, The Hive has gone from strength to strength, with:

  • 4 million visits
  • 62,780 new members, 40,800 children or young people
  • Over 4 million issues
  • Over 10,000 school children
  • Student satisfaction risen 13% in the National Student Survey (NSS)
  • University staff satisfaction with library services 98%
  • 8,690 logged enquiries (2015-16), 51% by university members

Alongside these facts and figures, there is great qualitative feedback from users and visitors, some of which has been tracked through the National Student Survey (NSS) conducted by the Higher Education Founding Council of England:

       The library was a big ‘selling point’ of the course for me.  NSS response, 2016

 I would like to highlight the fact that we have a wonderful library in Worcester. Great    workspace, friendly staff and tons of resources. NSS response, 2016

At the wonderful Hive, Worcester, I found myself hoping that like them, other universities could combine with local libraries…” Michael Rosen, English novelist, at The Hive’s fifth anniversary

Wonderful staff make all this happen. Simply put, they are the best asset we have. There are around 200 staff in The Hive who undertake a tremendous amount of work.  A member of the front-of-house team might be running Bounce and Rhyme in the morning, supporting a first-time computer user at lunchtime, and helping students discover reading list materials for assignments in the afternoon. Staff work with each customer in the same positive and friendly way and engender great feedback from our users.

The nature of the building means that there are many opportunities for people to get involved, students and public. Alongside paid staff, there are 110 volunteers performing fifteen different roles, contributing 20,000 hours this year alone. Volunteers sign up as digital champions or meet and greeters; work with events, code club, work club or children’s activities; and contribute in multiple ways.

There is a vibrant cultural, educational and participatory programme designed to bring our communities together, with all activities open to all users. We are truly an example of cohesion, joined-up thinking and commitment to lifelong learning across all ages. We aim high; our programme is carefully considered; and we offer something new and modern in a predominately historic city.

What’s Next?

A new five-year strategic plan for The Hive is in production and one of the many lessons learned has been that we must remain flexible and adapt to changing circumstances and customer needs. The new plan prioritises and builds on our many achievements, but also identifies where we want to grow our audience and improve our facility. There are plans to develop the exterior site to assist the regeneration of this area of Worcester and to work more closely with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Economic Development on measuring impact on the city. We are also looking at evaluating The Hive’s influence and impact on education providers, literacy and visitors. We aim to continue to be a frontrunner in terms of design, building functionality, services provided and continuous improvement, ensuring fitness for purpose for those who use the facilities both now and in the future.

There are many wonderful spaces to discover at The Hive but we all have our own special places. Some of Sarah’s favourites are on level 1:

Just walking up to our beautiful building each morning brings a smile to my face, but I particularly love the spaces that visitors always comment on, like the comfy ‘cheesewall’ in the children’s library or the oral history sound-showers on level 2.

Laura’s special place is on Level 4:

Our only silent study area where I can sit and look out across the gold-cladded roof to the Malvern Hills beyond or up on the roof itself, such an amazing feat of engineering and genuinely feeling like I am in the pyramids of Egypt!   The Hive is so much more than        just a library.

Author details

Laura Worsfold has held the position of Business Development Manager at The Hive, Worcester since 2012, where her responsibilities include running the building and managing the PFI contract; developing a full events programme and exploring partnership opportunities for delivering high quality activity.  Laura has over twenty years’ experience in project management, cultural development, market research and operations management in the public sector and creative industries including Cultural Development Manager for the Oxford City Council.

Sarah Pittaway is a Team Leader in Academic Services in Library Services at The Hive, University of Worcester, Birmingham. Since 2013, she has been responsible for managing academic library engagement, including academic liaison, research support and student engagement; e-resources; and reading resources, including reading lists, digitisation, alternative formats and interlibrary requests. Sarah formerly worked in e-resources and as a subject advisor at the University of Birmingham. For six years, she was a member of the Best Evidence Medical Education (BEME) Collaboration group. She has a Ph.D. in medieval studies and can be followed @dr_sarah_p. .


[1] This blog was adapted from: Pittaway, Sarah and Worsfold, Laura (2017) “The Hive at Five: From Design to Delivery”. ALISS Quarterly, 13 (1). pp. 8-10, available at Viewed 3 July 2018

[2] Awards include Civic Building of the Year from the SCALA (Society for Construction & Architecture in Local Authorities) in 2013, best new-build project of the year in the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) Building Performance Awards 2013, and the ‘Contribution to the local community’ Guardian University Award. It has won awards for Design and Innovation and Community Benefit from the RICS Awards West Midlands and a Sustainability Award from the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Awards West Midlands in 2013. The Hive recently triumphed in the SCONUL (Society of College, National and University Libraries) Library Design Awards 2016, winning the Development over 2,000 sqm category.



Qatar National Library – a Building Shaped for the Future

Ayub Khan, IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Standing Committee member, shares his impressions of the new Qatar National Library


Qatar and its Library

I was privileged to attend the official opening of the new Qatar National Library (QNL), on April 16 2018, as President of CILIP, the UK’s Library and Information Association. I packed my chain of office, as befitted the occasion. The medal set off airport alarms at both ends of a long journey and drew puzzled looks from security. The opening ceremony, and the chance to explore a brand new world-class national library made the long flight and the security checks well worth it.

Qatar is one of the world’s wealthiest countries and spared no expense on its national library, which is part of a new Education City development in Doha. The combined public, university and national library is thought to have cost at least $300 million. Qatar is a very hot country and the diamond-shaped building features a corrugated glass facade and a reflective aluminium ceiling designed to diffuse the bright sunlight, while a sunken patio filters light into the lower levels and staff offices. Air conditioning keeps the temperature comfortable.


The Design Focus

According to Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who designed Seattle Central Library, QNL’s exterior shape is based on a folded sheet of paper. Whilst the emerging structure’s external characteristics were hard to conceal, details of the interior design were kept secret until the building opened last year. The internal space is organized around three main aisles connected by column-free bridges that provide study spaces, reading rooms, exhibition areas and an auditorium that can be separated by a retractable screen.

The aisles radiate from a triangular central area which has been compared to a public square. It constitutes a valuable social space and has the capacity to host a wide range of events. With comfortable seating and tables, a meeting place is provided at the heart of the building.

Koolhaas set out to create “a monument to the enduring value of the book” and his tiered shelving design makes each book in the collection visible. The bookshelves, which are made of the same white marble as the floor, stretch out in terraces across the 138-metre-long library.

Contemporary architectural design confidently and seamlessly blends the traditional and ultra-modern. QNL houses more than a million books and makes another five hundred thousand titles available electronically.  The library is designed to appeal to all generations and interests and to take users of all ages on a journey of discovery.

The Feel of the Building

The 42,000 square metre library is massive. It is hard to convey in words just how huge it feels inside. The basic building materials are stone, steel and wood which are used to create a vast and open space that looks stunning. “The interior is so large it’s on an almost urban scale,” said Koolhaas. “It could contain an entire population, and also an entire population of books.”

QNL can accommodate thousands of visitors – who move around the different levels on a wheelchair-friendly sloped elevator. As well as artificial lighting and air conditioning, the library has a system which returns books automatically to the section where they belong.

The subterranean Heritage Library, visible from the main library above, is reminiscent of an archaeological excavation. It houses many rare and important items of international significance relating to Arabic and Islamic culture. Preserving the past for Qatar and the world is a key function for QNL. A state-of-the-art conservation suite includes the IFLA Preservation and Conservation Centre for the Arab Countries and the Middle East.

The Opening Ceremony

His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani placed the library’s millionth book on the shelf, Al-Bukhari’s Abridged Collection of Authentic Hadith, as part of the  grand formal opening ceremony. Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, had shelved the Library’s first book, a Qur’an manuscript, back in December 2016.

The new Library opened in November 2017.  Since that date, it has welcomed 161,000 visitors, registered 51,000 new members, and lent more than 300,000 books with well over half from the children and young people’s sections. High-ranking guests attending the official opening included members of royal families, ambassadors and other VIPs, from more than fifty countries. IFLA President Elect Christine Mackenzie was among the guests.

Smart Cities and Smart Libraries

QNL reflects Qatar’s determination to become a knowledge economy no longer defined by dependence on natural resources. It is both a national and an international institution designed as a model library for a new age where people from all nationalities and backgrounds can come together to contemplate, create and interact.

A new wave of ultra-modern libraries is being built around the world and Qatar is a prime example. Smart cities demand smart libraries, particularly with big data and heightened awareness of environmental issues. Visual impact and bold architecture make strong statements, affirming commitment to culture and learning. A key internal design principle, so evident at QNL, is making space that is convenient to access and use, and where people can freely interact. Good design influences behaviour.  As former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill said: “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”


Photographs kindly supplied and approved for use by the Qatar National Library.

Author Details

IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Standing Committee member Ayub Khan is Head of Libraries and Face to Face Services for Warwickshire County Council in England. He is Digital Lead for the Society of Chief Librarians and President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). In 2013 he was awarded an MBE for his services to libraries. He has written articles and publications on library design and theory, including a book: Better by design[1] and regularly speaks to audiences in the UK and abroad. He co-authored the section on library and information centres in the Metric Handbook[2].

[1] Khan, Ayub (2008) Better by design: an introduction to planning and designing a new library building. (London: Facet Publishing)

[2] Buxton, Pamela (2015) Metric handbook: planning & design data. 5th ed. (London: Routledge)