It was only weeks ago that we were whisked away to our exotic neighbours, the London College of Fashion. This time, our travels took us further afield to Middlesex University where we visited the Sheppard Library a couple of weeks ago.
(Please note that if you stick around to the end of this post you will be rewarded with a bonus library.)
It’s an exciting time to be alive. The Brazil Olympics are just around the corner. We’ve just had Eurovision where [SINGER] from [COUNTRY] wowed us all with her stunning rendition of [SONG]. It’s the Royal College of Nursing’s Centenary. All this and so much more.
But frankly, these trivial events pale in comparison to ANOTHER LIBRARY VISIT FOR TIM AND LAUREN!
The lobby of the library is a somewhat strange location, with rows of help desks and waiting areas, where students will be summoned when their ticket is called. It’s a little bit like Argos. When we asked about this, our lovely guide Jo told us that the University is home to some 23,000 students (including distance learning) and these desks are there to provide not just library services but general student administrative procedures. This is because the library and student services share the building, with the latter being based on the ground floor.
Once again, we witnessed conveyor belts of book returns but this time, even more complex and even an external hole-in-the-wall so you don’t even have to enter the library to return a book, which is probably really useful if the library is closed. Jo even let us into the sorting room where, let’s face it, we could have stayed for a while just watching it sort returned books into various bins. The self check out points are also based on the ground floor. The entire library is self-service and even loan laptops can be taken out without a member of staff present. There are loan laptop cupboards present on every floor with handy instructions nearby, although there also desktop PCs that students can use.
The top two floors of the library are quiet study areas and well-lit and airy with tall ceilings and partitioned desks. One interesting feature is that each desk has a number they can text for assistance or to anonymously complain about noise or disruptions. A library assistant will then promptly appear and dish out justice to the inconsiderate fools.
They only have a small collection of print journals and up to 90% of their current journals are online only, with a postal loan service offered for distance learners which includes extra time for returns. Much like our own library, they do not provide a literature search service as this is a skill that students need to demonstrate themselves, but there are a variety of places they can go for help finding resources.
The main location in the library for this, is the ‘ask a librarian’ desk, or hub rather, that is open from 9-5 Monday to Friday and is always staffed by a librarian. The library hub, although great for accommodating larger groups with its horseshoe shape and giving a semblance of privacy, is apparently not so great for disabled users, particularly if they have a wheelchair. Despite this, it did have quite a welcoming feel to it, and is handily located near the IT support desk so all the library support desks are in the same place and students don’t have to traipse around the entire building.
Unlike our library, a student login is required to access all the computers. On the art and design floor in the basement however, there are Macs rather than PCs as they are more suited to the particular demands of the associated courses, and there was also a wider variety of working space. The basement (which actually looks out onto the outdoor car park due to being on a hill) was clearly designed with the students using it in mind, and looked well suited to those it caters for. As you go down the stairs to the floor there is also a variety of student artwork displayed which I (Lauren) thought was a nice touch. It was also down on the art and design floor where they have their sample room. This room has a wide variety of samples of various materials that students can view and borrow for various projects (particularly design students) and there is also a collection of fashion pieces, magazines and even a collection of comic books.
Large parts of this collection came from the Hornsey Collection and included dresses dating back to the Edwardian Era as well as more contemporary outfits such as uniforms from the London 2012 Olympics. They also had a collection of classic comics which we both thought was very cool and if Middlesex University ever needs someone to donate them too, I (Tim) will happily take them off your hands.
We finished our tour with tea and biscuits whilst also taking the opportunity to meet some of the staff that work in the library and have a Q&A with them about what they do. We met Jenny Evans who was Middlesex’s Research Information Manager and Paul Howell who is their Acquisition Manager.
To be honest, we both found the RDM stuff quite confusing although we think we got the gist of it in the end. Our understanding is that research data management was based around the concept of research being made available in an open access format to allow for better collaboration and efficiency within the world of research. This involves liaising with a number of people from across the university.
Paul told us about an interesting scheme that Middlesex Uni runs wherein they are buying one textbook per module per student every year as a digital book. They decide on the book by collaborating with individual module organisers to find out what they consider to be the core texts for that course. Where possible they try to acquire one of those titles and the students can then access them via their VLE and also via an app. From the perspective of the students, this is clearly an outstanding offer as I (Lauren) can remember only too well how expensive some textbooks are and in turn how difficult it can be to get hold of a key text from the library when 20 other students want the same book. It isn’t without it’s problems, but it is definitely a strong selling point for the university that they can provide their students with a free eBook, especially now that students are paying £9000 a year on tuition fees alone.
All in all this was a very informative and enjoyable visit that we both got a lot out of. As promised to the most avid readers, here is the bonus library:
Yes, that’s right. It’s HENDON LIBRARY! If you managed to guess the correct library before the end, award yourself with a hearty pat on the back and perhaps a light guffaw.
Until next time…
Lauren & Tim