How flexible are the new generation of ‘flexible library spaces’?

With the massive investment being made in new and refurbished college buildings – including library and learning resource centres – those responsible for seeing through these projects are clearly learning a great deal from the sector’s collective experience in this area.

An RSC Eastern event on Thursday was a case in point. It brought together librarians and others to share knowledge and experience and showcased plenty of exciting work in the region. One delegate spoke of a huge new build project at his college which is effectively doing away with the need for a learning resource centre (LRC) in favour of more flexible and responsive spaces.

Another spoke of a refurbishment which is following similar, although less radical, principles. But, citing the Google Generation report, this delegate questioned whether more traditional approaches were also needed to ensure that libraries could deliver on their mission to support information literacy. He even questioned whether, if a backlash occurred in five or so years’ time, calling once more for more traditional approaches, whether libraries could adapt back to earlier methods. For all their flexibility, he seemed to ask, are the new generation of learning resource centres flexible enough to revert to those more traditional approaches should these be needed?

In her article in this week’s Times Higher, Tara Brabazon (see post below) looks at school libraries and reports: ‘A case has been reported to me of a new head teacher in a Newcastle-based school that is about to enter the Building Schools for the Future programme. He is questioning whether a library should be part of this “new build” because the goal of the programme is to “transform learning”. As the man who decides where the money is spent, his attitudes towards reading, research and scholarship are crucial. Other correspondents confirmed that new school buildings – including cybercafés – are being designed, but no library is in the plans.’

Of course, there are important differences between such developments as these and the design of the kind of responsive and technology-rich learning resource centres we heard about last Thursday, but there is clearly a debate to be had about the place of ‘information literacy’ in the design of learning and library spaces and about how flexible ‘flexibility’ might be should tastes and approaches change in the near future…