The University’s library service has seen many changes over the summer, both physically and online. But exactly how useful and effective will they be for students?
The new Hartley Library entrance
Despite what the moral of many stories tell us, research indicates that first impressions do count. While this refurbishment may not have been as expansive or disruptive as the last extension around 2004, it has seen big changes in the area. However, they are mainly a reflection of the way society has moved on, even in such as small space of time.
The main desk, for example, has been reintegrated with the loans desk and made smaller – back in 2004, the concept of self-service was not technologically possible. Now it is so commonplace that the old loans desk was barely used and so there is now a dedicated area for all the self-service machines. The area freed up by the old desk and the office space behind has been incorporated into a new, larger area for the Hartley Course collection and for holds.
In 2004 the design was for open space, but that was somewhat punctured when students began to gather around the walls to sit and talk. Now, the casual seating area outside the café has been expanded dramatically and the cushioned benches inside the turnstiles provide a more comfortable spot to relax.
The previous shortage of study desks has resulted in 78 more being added to both the course collection area and in the main entrance hall. Although it is questionable how much work may get done, especially if it is so noisy, the new desks will certainly be appreciated by those who need them most. There have also been other changes including a rearrangement of the Level 2 toilet facilities, a new photocopying area, improved signage that has started to appear elsewhere in the library, and a new place to bin your litter that is hard to ignore.
Although the last finishing touches need to be made – notably some new chairs and some last minute painting when I visited – it all looks very good. The professionalism is definitely there, and seeing students working and resting alongside each other complements that. The library’s professionalism was previously punctured by the students sitting everywhere, a problem hopefully solved by the new upgrades. Equally, the library should be easier to navigate thanks to the new signage.
However we must acknowledge one last change. Since fees increased last year, a new breed of student was created. The type who would spend more time studying in places like the library and who demanded the best for their money. This new refurbishment both helps those more library-bound students as well as proving they are getting the best.
Pictures of the refurbished Library are available at the bottom of this page.
LibGuides and DelphiS
As a research centre, it is important that the library is expansive. It can rightly claim to hold millions of books, journals and documents. It contains extensive archives, microforms and maps. The library has paid for online memberships so all students and staff can access a huge number of databases and the millions of millions of online documents they contain. All of this content is spread out in libraries over five campuses, in restricted storage areas and throughout the internet. So, with such a varied and separated collection, how can you make sure the student population can actually use it.
The librarians answer up until now had been the Library’s website, the online catalogue WebCat and the journal searching tool TDNet. The idea was that these three websites could help them use the library, help them find items in the library and help them find articles in the journals respectively. They all did their job but the main website, the one that is vital as a central port of call, didn’t work as well as hoped. By their own admission, the librarians knew the old website had all the information there somewhere, but it was far from intuitive or easy to find what you were looking for.
The new website is something different entirely. Gone is the same template used across the University in favour of the LibGuides system, used by other university research libraries and consisting of a collection of articles on subjects, opening hours and resources all written by different people. It was also launched alongside DelphiS, a Google-style search engine of the Library’s resources. LibGuides has already replaced most of the content from the old website.
When trying a new website I always try to keep an open mind. Usually when change occurs the initial reaction is of horror and disgust, especially when you can’t find anything anymore. When looking at the two they gave different reactions. DelphiS was simple and easy to use and I think it will work well in making searching easier. As for the LibGuides, there were a few sticking points with me.
Firstly, the site is of a fixed size. Most would ask what’s the problem with that. Petty so it seems it means if the site is opened on a widescreen monitor, like the ones just installed in the library over the summer, it doesn’t fit the screen dimensions leaving the text small and bunched together compared to the vast blank space around it.
Second is the name: LibGuides@Southampton. The use of the @ symbol to me is immature and clichéd and it doesn’t fit in well with the mature research image the Library, and the University, tries to present elsewhere.
But the final issue is all the unnecessary screen clutter. The top section of each page shows you who wrote the article, how long ago it was updated, the URL for the page, RSS feeds and Print guides. While some of this is useful information, it is poorly placed – the feeds and last updated would be good at the bottom of the page but not at the top. Equally some is irrelevant. We don’t need to know the author, especially if it is credited as ‘Avenue Library Admin’, and the address bar has been the place to get a page’s URL for decades now. Also irritating is the newly improved navigation bar that doesn’t stay on every article, making navigating to a different part of the site difficult.
So the Library’s summer of change has seen two very different updates. Both were done with the best of intentions but they came out differently due to two distinct design experiences. The new entrance hall has a design that leaves you satisfied, while the online experience can leave you with the bitter taste of irritation and complexity as it does its job.