Tag Archives: laptops

London Travelogue, Part the Third: Senate House

Thanks to Andrew Praeter and Simon Barron I got a fantastic tour of the Senate House library (and building) just before I left London for home.

It’s a spectacular building–apparently, if WWII hadn’t broken out, it would have been part of a complex that extended all the way up through Gordon Square (right in front of the current Institute of Archaeology building).  Crazy to think about.  It was the first skyscraper in London.

It’s a landmark in Bloomsbury, and I’ve been walking past it for years, never quite realizing that’s what it was.  Senate House is an interesting library in that it’s not attached to any one particular University, but rather has (someone correct me if I’m wrong) member institutions who pay for their students to have access.  Senate House showed up in some of the cognitive maps that I collected from people at UCL, as a place where people enjoyed working.  It’s a lovely building, I adore Art Deco architecture and design, and it’s a pleasure walking around it.  The specific history of the building is fascinating, as there are elements that are simply unfinished (especially decorative flourishes that never happened), because of the War.  The decorative flourishes that did manage to happen are stunning.

Stained glass windows.

The Senate Chamber.  I want to give a talk in this room SO MUCH.

More stained glass.

Beautiful clock (with the reflection of Simon for good measure).

Lovely fabulous marble hall.

The library-specific spaces in Senate House are uniformly Traditional Quiet Library spaces–there are no group study spaces in Senate House (although, apparently, students will walk up to the desk and ask “where are the group study rooms?”).  The assumption is that there are such spaces provided by the home academic departments.  I wonder how accurate that assumption is.

At any rate, as Traditional Library Spaces go, the ones in Senate House are nicely appointed, and are a good fit with contemporary scholarly behaviors (and technology).

This traditional reading room has tables big enough for people to spread out, and also use their laptops/tablets
This reading room used to have desktop computers in it, but they moved those out and now just have large tables as shown.

Self-service laptop checkouts have replaced desktop computers distributed throughout the Senate House spaces. Patrons can take the laptops wherever in Senate House they feel most comfortable working, and don’t have to rely on where computers happen to be, if they don’t walk in with their own devices.  Wireless is throughout the building.
Up in the stacks, there are workspaces as well.  These little window seats have always been popular (windows are popular in Atkins, and really in nearly every library I’ve ever seen, at least in terms of where patrons like to park themselves).  Senate House recently got new fittings for these window areas.
A light, a shelf, a work surface, and outlets/powerpoints.  And, a chair.
There are also these tables, with powerpoints and room to spread out.  The funny pillars on the end of the table are artifacts from when there was a fixed desktop and monitor on one end of the table.  Senate House has moved away from desktops in their library, except where they are used for catalog check stations.
This, however, is my favorite space in Senate House.  Filled with huge tufted leather sofas.  Magic.
Apparently there was some initial worry that the sofas would encourage talking.  I think that the arrangement of them in rows, the fact that they are massive heavy pieces, and the placement of them in a room that is clearly a “Traditional Reading Room” all sets the tone nicely, and it’s clearly a quiet place to study that just happens to be filled with soft seating rather than desks and hard chairs.  I would spend all of my time here, if this were My Library.

New York Public Library and Thinking about Workspaces

I had the great good fortune to spend a few days in New York City this past week, and managed to stop in to the NY Public Library for a little while. 

My kids told me it felt like a museum, but to me it feels like a cathedral dedicated to books.  All that marble, all of that art, all of that lovely architecture, surrounding a collection and a space for accessing that collection.

And not just the collection, but also the internet (and the informative places therein)–so, it’s a cathedral to information, really.  A place for you to find what you need, and also to get help if you need it.  Heady stuff for academics.  And for non-academics who love information. (“Information:  it’s not just for books anymore.”)

Photos are only permitted in the Catalog section of the Reading Room.   The other half of the Reading Room looks very similar, except there are not desktop/catalog computers in that space.  People in that part of the reading room were working on laptops if they were working on computers.

The Catalog Reading Room looks like this:

It is a beautifully appointed room, with brass lamps at strategic places at the long wooden tables, so that when the natural light that streams through the windows is unavailable, people can still work. 

The lamps also delineate the tables as workspaces for multiple people.  
There were people working singly, but also in pairs:

  The walls are lined not just with marble, but also with books.  The further back you go into the room from the information desk, the less desktop computers/internet terminals there are.  People seemed fairly evenly distributed throughout the space until I got to this point:

The sign says this: 

I was particularly struck by the lack of people at these tables.  I wondered if it was because this was the catalog room, and people needed to be closer to the catalog computers.  But then I went into the other half of the Reading Room, and found the same situation:  a sparsely populated laptop free zone.

Further investigation in the building, not far away, revealed this:


This room is not as big as the Reading Room, but it’s pretty nice, for a room that’s not the Heart of the NYC Public Library. 

But I really can’t figure out the logic of separating out people who work on laptops from the rest of the people who are working in the Reading Room.  It feels archaic, like “no click zones” are now.  I didn’t have time to interview anyone who worked at the library about it, so they may well have their reasons, but it felt like an unnecessary segregation to me.

Of course, the NYC Public Library has lots of space, and clearly can provide lovely space that is separate for its laptop users (a luxury we, and many other public university libraries, simply do not now and never will have).  But check out the ceiling of the laptop room:

and contrast it with the one in the Reading Room. 

In a cathedral to books, I know which space I’d rather be working in, laptop or no.