Phase 1 of the Clifford Whitworth Library Refurbishment

I visited the Clifford Whitworth Library at the University of Salford to learn about their refurbishment project and design proposals. I was keen to see if Sue and the Library team’s clear ambitions and aims had come to fruition so, a year on, I returned to look at the first phase of their project. This phase covered the refurbishment of the first and second floors.

Walking from Salford Crescent station seemed easy – the station is almost directly connected to the campus. The much coveted New Adelphi building was immediately obvious. The plaza was being used by a number of people, both walking and sitting having conversations. It was great to see the activity in this area as often plaza’s become underused due to inclement North West weather.

It was great to clearly see the original façade of the Library. Even though the team are aware of the cleaning issues it poses, the design seems to fit perfectly with the new developments around it.

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As I entered the Library, the first thing I saw was books. Previously the ground floor foyer was open plan. Sue explained that the collection was here temporarily as the refurbishment works progressed. The team used cheap but flexible Styrofoam panels as shelf ends. In fact these were the same panels that had messages about the construction work on one side. The team had simply turned them around (well recycled!) They looked good and updated the relatively old fashioned shelves.

Keeping on the theme of stock, a challenge the Library is now facing is the layout of their collection. The collection and shelving arrangement appeared to work well on plan. However in practice it became more challenging and is being reviewed.

We walked to the first floor (a non-silent area). The exchange of ideas between the groups of users was tangible – the atmosphere was filled with activity and conversation. People were using the group working booths (a design I had seen working well at Lancaster University Library). However, like Lancaster, Salford also observed that the utilisation of all four seats in each booth was extremely low. Normally, there would only be one or two people using each.

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Users have a great view of the plaza from the upper floors of the Library, particularly from the park themed study areas. These areas were destined to have an astroturf type floor to replicate grass but this was changed to pattern carpet. It looked great and gave a natural aesthetic to the space. Users had already found and started using floor boxes to power their personal devices. This is a common occurrence and I hear less people concerned about it than I did in the past. Maybe there should be a portable appliance that turns floor boxes into ‘power pillars’ when they aren’t used for other things?

It was great to see another example of affordable, flexible and effective shelf signage. On the new shelf ends were simple Perspex A4 poster holders. Sue explained that these were chosen over much more designed and engineered sign holders that the architects proposed. Good choice!

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A fantastic design detail was the use of books as lampshades in the central study area. This space has a great feel. It is demarcated by the surrounding low level wall and is brought to life by the interplay of horizontal and vertical wood panels.

The customer service information points have already been successful with both staff and users. Located on each floor, they allow roving staff a point to set down and users a place to go for help.

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Each floor of the library is coloured, as are the different wings of our own Main Library. We moved from the blue first floor and up to the green second floor. The second floor is silent study and the difference from the first floor is instant. The walls of the staff areas are glazed, allowing users and staff to experience each other. The Library believes this is important in continuing to encourage greater closeness between staff and users, but at the same time offers indirect policing of the area. Like most recent Library refurbishments I have visited, the staff area is light, open and modern.

There are some great details in the Clifford Whitworth Library. They have installed exhibition cases in preparation for their special collections once the refurbishment is complete. Manifestations on windows are detailed, including the large “SSSHHH” letting in the corridor. My favourite aspect has to be the single person study rooms. It is common for libraries to provide as many group study rooms as possible, but this is the first time I have seen rooms for an individual. They are well sized and have been very successful with users.

As we rounded up the tour Sue shared a number of lessons they had learnt. This included the importance of accurate, honest and positive messages to users about construction work; both its aims and impact. They are going to work more closely with their central marketing team to ensure messages are distributed even further across the University. The team also found that although additional study spaces were provided elsewhere on campus whilst sections of the Library were closed, people didn’t want to use them. Many would prefer to sit on the floor of available library spaces than go elsewhere. This shows how importance the library is to its users, both as a resource but also as a place. This is probably the most valuable lesson to date.

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Mike Kelly, Library Space Development Manager

@mikeliamkelly

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