Amazing spaces

On the 22nd August 2017 I attended the Amazing spaces conference organized by the Association of Librarians and Information Professionals in the Social Sciences (ALISS). The conference focused on how we can use library design to enhance organisational goals and user satisfaction. Obviously this is an area that I focus on heavily in my role as Library Spaces Development Manager at the University of Manchester Library. We know from the development of the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons and the recent improvement of staff workspaces how much of an impact design can have on user satisfaction and the aims of our organization.

The conference was held at Sentate House, an amazing building on the University of London campus that has recently undergone an extensive refurbishment, led by BDP. I saw Senate House during the refurbishment works in 2016 as detailed on my blog, and so it was fantastic to see the finished article… ‘impressive’ doesn’t do I justice!


On my way to Senate House, it was brilliant to see the moat areas of neighbouring university buildings being used for the storage of bikes. A great idea and one to think about at The University of Manchester, considering the massive increase in bike usage following the recent cycle lane improvements works.


The conference was opened by my colleague, and highly respected figure in library design, Karen Latimer (Chair of the Designing Libraries Advisory Board). Karen’s presentation, Looking good, working well: the ultimate goal in library design, described the shift we are seeing in library design from:

20th century









21st century








The talk focused on this shift but also questioned whether or not much had really changed? A lot has changed in terms of principles but maybe less so in the overall approach used in library design. Key questions emerged, particularly:

  1. Q) How do we create an IT rich space but retain the flavor of what a library is?
  2. Q) Should we keep up with current trends or focus on enhancing and improving aspects of our own libraries?
  3. Q) How bold should we be with library design?

Sally Jennings of the British Library outlined their ambitious development plans. A key part of Sally’s talk Building the future was outlining the business process used by the Library to identify a vision and the subsequent steps used to progress towards testing and delivery. These steps included outlining the vision, identifying the expected benefit and measures, describing the business change needed and defining the enabling works to realise the change.

It was fantastic to learn from Sarah Pittaway (Team Leader: Academic Services) and Laura Worsfold (Business Development Manager) about the operating model of The Hive in Worcester. The Hive is the first joint public and university library in Europe and has become a focal point in the centre of Worcester. The presentation, The Hive at five: from design to delivery, focused on the first five years of The Hive. Since opening the partnership has strived to ensure this unique model worked. The team has learnt many lessons and applied them to the on-going evolution of the library, in order to continue meeting the needs of its diverse audiences.


The final presentation was delivered by Nicola Cook and Loesja Vigour of the Wellcome Collection. Based in the same vicinity as The British Library and Senate House, the Wellcome Collection is home to a breathtaking Reading Room, if indeed you can call it a Reading Room (in the traditional sense). A space described as being for the “incurably curious”, the redevelopment of the Wellcome Collection venue was led by Wilkinson Eyre and the result is stunning. Although the main library space is more typical of a library, the Reading Room is somewhat of a separate entity and aimed to combine the spirit of open access with the aesthetic of open-heart surgery. Nicola and Loesja explained that the reincarnation of the Reading Room defied many traditional notions of what such a space should be. The objects and collections in the room are categorized into ‘niches’ that reflect the purpose behind the overall Wellcome Collection. Visitors are invited to touch, explore, sit, read and discuss – the entire area is tangible to all senses. The Reading Room team are given the license to develop any events, pop up activities or displays they like – you could be catching up with an old friend and encounter an impromptu performance, delivered by staff in full character.

After the conference finished, Karen Latimer, Laura Worsfold and I visited the Wellcome Collection and explored the Reading Room. My photos do it little justice… a visit is well recommended!

Mike Kelly, Library Space Development Manager


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