Lancaster University library’s £15 million refurbishment gets underway

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In Week 6 of Summer term, Lancaster University Library began its 15 million pound refurbishment project. The project, which has been in the process of planning for 18 months, will introduce new infrastructure, facilities, IT, workspaces and bookshelves to the East Building. The West Building, which was refurbished in 1997, will be upgraded to the same standard as the new East building. The award-winning architecture practice, Sheppard Robson, will be leading the design team and the project is expected to be completed by Lent Term 2015-2016.

An extensive amount of consultation took place to achieve the refurbishment plan. Throughout the design process of the project, architects met with a range of stakeholders and carried out focus groups with students, academic and Library staff, ISS staff and Facilities staff. There were also presentations from Library staff at Union Council, departmental meetings, the Lancaster Students’ Union AGM and Faculty forums. Comments related to the Library in both the Lancaster Student Experience Survey (LSES 2013) and National Student Survey (NSS 2013) have also helped in the design process. Assistant Librarian Lynne Pickles said she thought that the consultation “got a lot of consistent feedback” and highlighted students concerns about the library being too “dark and claustrophobic” and “not having enough power”. She also emphasised the fact that students wanted the library to be an environment for “serious academic study”.

On their website dedicated to the refurbishment, the library have summarised the main feedback from the consultation. In terms of the building, the feedback indicated that “temperature regulation is poor, the toilets are a problem and there is not enough natural light and fresh air”. The responses also showed that people wanted “to study in a comfortable environment with facilities close at hand, with space to relax in between study sessions.”

With regards to the location and layout of the library, feedback suggested people “want a place where physical resources are easy to locate”. Specifically, postgraduates emphasised that they wanted “a dedicated postgraduate workspace” and responses about the library’s technology confirmed that students “expect the Library to provide PCs, printers and scanners” and that they “expect to be able to use and charge” their own laptops and mobile devices whilst at the library.

The main aim of the project is “to provide an outstanding research and learning space” and the Library refurbishment is the first refurbishment project on campus to target a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ standard. BREEAM is a measure of the building’s environmental performance and the effect it will have on the wider environment. Mark Swindlehurst, Director of Facilities said: “In 2005 the University set out a strategy which had strict criteria to ensure that any new buildings on campus met the BREEAM Excellent standard and that any major refurbishments met BREEAM criteria of Very Good. This time we are aiming to raise the bar with an ‘Excellent’ standard for a refurbishment project.”

Alex Solk, Partner from Sheppard Robson said: “Collaborating with researchers, students, academics and library staff has enabled us to develop a design that will create a step change in the learning offer provided by the Library.” He also said that “Drawing on the latest research in design for higher education, the new library will respond to the needs of all students and staff both using the resources available today and future-proofed to accommodate future learning styles.”

The new library interior will utilise natural light and ventilation to tackle the problems raised in the feedback. A new glass roof will bring the external courtyard into the building and a tree will be planted in the middle of the courtyard, which the website says will create a “calm and contemplative environment”.

The balconies will also be opened up to ventilate the centre of the building. The facilities will be upgraded with new heating, lighting, toilets and ventilation, as well as water fountains and vending machines. On the ground floor, there will also be an interactive help kiosk and a directory and information boards will be available on each floor. In the East Building, there will be wider aisles and new lower book shelves to help improve the access to resources. Highly visible, open-plan zoning will clearly define the spaces within the Library and the design will be repeated on every floor for easy navigation.

In terms of workspaces, there will be an increase in quiet individual study spaces in a variety of formal and informal settings, while group study will be made easier through bookable enclosed and semi enclosed spaces. Almost all of the study spaces will be equipped with power sources, data and some furniture will be fitted with USB ports. The Wi-Fi of the building will also be upgraded. There will also be bigger rooms for flexible teaching space and a dedicated area for postgraduate study.

Pickles said “I’m just looking forward to it being finished because I think it’s going to be stunning”. She also emphasised that “It’s going to be a really high quality finish with new furniture and new facilities. I think it will be so much better for everybody because of the additional workspace and the power.”

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