by Klaus U. Werner
Training Rooms in Libraries
Library space, where librarians teach information literacy, should not look like an old-fashioned classroom or a computerized training room which might be found in a computer centre. In a traditional information technology training room or a computer laboratory. The furniture and its arrangement convey messages to occupants: don’t move, don’t discuss, don’t feel comfortable! Tables are usually placed in rows. There are rarely windows that allow views of the outside world. The computers and large monitors dominate, there might be some digitized displays – but there is limited space for the learners. The students using the facility will become tired very quickly. The following images of traditional training rooms typify the stereotyped and stultifying atmosphere which develops, even if the colours are bright.
The challenge in designing a perfect training room is to develop an environment for teaching in the library that is more than just user-friendly. The space must be inspiring and encourage learning. The space must promote information and media literacy. The environment must enhance the course content and delivery and contribute strongly to the success of the training being conducted. Space for training and instruction in libraries must provide a motivating and stimulating setting suitable for all users: for children in school libraries, for young people in universities and for adults of all ages in public libraries.
What to do?
Teaching spaces within the library should be quite different from ordinary classrooms or computer training centres. The design of library teaching spaces and the equipment provided should support individual learning strategies as well as collaborative learning. There is a wide range of students’ individual learning styles and flexibility of furniture to create different settings is vital. What requirements must be met in the interior design off rooms designated for teaching? Tables equipped with computers, chairs and a projector hung from the ceiling do not suffice. Attention must be given to lighting, acoustical treatment of doors and ceilings and control of temperature and humidity. The furniture must be flexible. Mobility is a priority. Height-adjustable chairs on a rolling base combined with modular desks on casters are essential and can be achieved on a low budget. Other points to note relate to light and perspective. Is there natural light in the room? Is it possible to look outside the windows? Is there sufficient fresh air?
Heavy chairs and tables are not appropriate. The worst option would be permanent, fixed furniture. The ideal result is a Starbucks feeling with a mixture of a variety of styles and designs of chairs. Students working in groups learn collaboratively and space designed for teaching and learning in groups can be used for formal training and teaching sessions as well as for informal group learning.
Flexibility applies not only to furniture but also to hardware emphasizing the use of notebook and tablet computers rather than fixed large desktops. Alternatively, users can bring their own devices.
Glass walls and doors provide transparency allowing users passing by to see what is going on inside. And that can motivate them to join a tutorial or a class. Nowadays projectors are so bright and their operation so well-developed that dimming the light in the room is no longer necessary.
The Look and Feel
Another approach is to provide a living room atmosphere: The balance of teaching, learning and relaxing characterizes the favourite preferred style of learning and a feel-good learning atmosphere for the younger generation. The addition of a coffee machine or a water dispenser provides the opportunity to have a break or to take coffee during long, intensive training sessions – why not?
The library should be “cool” and resemble a Starbucks cafe or an Apple store. While being “cool” might not be an appropriate or realistic goal for libraries in every country or in every culture, the idea is to develop a vision of successful communication through library space and services which suits young adults – but without becoming a slave to fads or trends.
To create effective training rooms in libraries, the most important considerations are:
- Flexible space to suit teaching and formal and informal learning for both individuals and groups
- A relaxing space facilitating communication between the teacher and the learners, and the learners with each other
- “Cool” design
- An inspiring and motivating atmosphere
- Use of mobile devices like notebooks and tablets instead of inflexible computer equipment
- Optimisation of natural light, but avoiding glare
The ultimate aim is to achieve a balance of teaching, learning and relaxing.
Altenhöner, Reinhard (2011). Learning and working environments – what students expect; results of a Student Design Contest. Satellite Conference of the World Library and Information Congress: 77th IFLA General Conference and Assembly / Library Building and Equipment Section, Atlanta, USA, 10./11.8.2011.
Gwyer, R., Stubbings, R. & Walton, G. (Eds.) (2012). The road to information literacy. Librarians as facilitators of learning. Berlin, Boston: de Gruyter.
Werner, K. U. (2012). Räumliche und gestalterische Anforderungen an Bibliotheken als Lehr- und Lernort zur Förderung von Informationskompetenz. In: Sühl-Strohmenger, W. & Straub, M. (Eds.), Handbuch Informationskompetenz (p. 451-466). Berlin: de Gruyter.
Klaus Ulrich Werner is a Director of the Library and Head of the Philological Library at the Freie Universität Berlin. He has degrees in library and information science and a doctorate from the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. He has undertaken various roles within the libraries at the Freie Universität and was project manager for the Philologische Bibliothek also known as the Berlin Brain designed by Lord Norman Foster and opened in 2005. He is a member of the Commission for Library and Archive Building Guidelines of the German Institute for Standardization (DIN), a member of the Board of Speakers of the German Cultural Council and member of the Standing Committee of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section. He lectures at the Institute of Library and Information Science at the Humboldt-Universität Berlin and has published books and articles on library building and equipment. He provides consulting services on library buildings and change management.