Catherine Greene, a research associate based at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art gave a talk on ‘Living Libraries’, a project that ‘aims to inform the design of new settings for the library, and more broadly, the future knowledge workplace’.
Taking the academic library as an example of an extreme research environment, Catherine described how she visited several universities to find out if their libraries held clues to how particular environments can nurture independent thought and be conducive to work. She also interviewed researchers working in different fields to gain an insight into how they use libraries as part of their own research. Her research found that overall 80% of students and academics now access their library catalogue’s remotely and that, in general, academics prefer working from home. From these results it is difficult to see how the library features in the research process at all but Catherine explained that the problem for many researchers is that they feel they are unable to use the library for every part of the research process. Catherine’s project developed a generic cycle of research to reflect the largely similar stages researchers working in different fields go through. These are: discover, gather, analyse create and share. After distinguishing the different phases of research, the next task was to come up with design solutions to reflect each stage. The challenge was to create designs that could work in co-operation with one another, and designate areas that would not impinge on users carrying out different forms of research. The designs can be viewed here:
The project’s emphasis is timely. The increasingly wide usage of the term ‘knowledge industries’ refers not only to the production of knowledge and cultural artefacts, but also to a valuable economic resource. Knowledge and expertise are now considered to be as, if not more central to businesses than other commodities. The suggestion that the academic library holds the key to the successful production of knowledge is both supported and thrown into doubt by this project but even with the high use of remote access and online research, it seems important to re-assess the physical learning environment. The ‘Living Libraries’ project proposes strategies for cultivating a more stimulating working environment, which can be extended to academic and non-academic workplaces, and in that way it creates an interesting link between different organisations concerned with the production of knowledge.