The design and delivery of a new 20 million euro library building

Hugh Murphy shares key lessons learned from managing a new library building project and explains why excellence and innovation matter.

What users want - "More of everything"

National University of Ireland Maynooth opened its doors to a new library building on December 3rd 2012. Costing €20 million it has significantly increased capacity for our users as well as our collections and has helped the library reinforce its position as the centre of the university. 


So, what did our users want?  Well...more of everything – more variety in study spaces, more seats, more PCs. Beyond anything however, they wanted more power for their devices. Conversely, they also wanted the building to be green, eco friendly and environmentally low impact. Squaring that circle is not an easy design challenge!  


Despite all the innovations which we incorporated, one of the more interesting findings during the delivery of the building was that our students display loyalty to certain 'traditional' ways of doing things.  For example, they continue to use the established desktop PC in greater numbers than ever before.  While well aware of the perennial user need for greater capacity in both power and network, the adherence to a traditional pattern of computer use was somewhat surprising, given the popularity of tablets elsewhere.  Similarly, while they are happy to use self service, there is still a very strong wish for a service desk and the personal touch which has long been the hallmark of the library. 


The library has been designed to be a diverse space and one of its strengths is that it caters for seven different learning styles including social, collaborative, silent and individual.  Central to the design and delivery of this building was a need to determine the learning context for each space, to allow a service which was heavily constrained by the limitations of an older space, expand and innovate in new and exciting ways.  The new building, like libraries globally, continues to evolve and retains inherent flexibility to allow us best meet the needs of users. 


A project such as this one also allowed us scope to address some related long standing issues. The building was in several key ways a driver for other projects.  For example, it was vital that our print collections would be structured in an intuitive way across both new and old building spaces.  To do this, we assessed usage and acquisitions patterns to ensure adequate growth space and rectify some layout issues which had developed organically over decades.     


We undertook an organisational review which ensured that the staffing structure of the library would meet the changing needs of our users.  The increase in footfall through the library since the extension, while important, is but one aspect of the change in user behaviour – the rise in electronic collection use, advances in information literacy and the need for longer opening hours are but a few of the issues which all libraries face at this time and staff need to be in a position to apply their talents at point of need.  From a management viewpoint, it is open to debate whether it is best to undertake two such important projects at the same time, but from our perspective, we were convinced that having an updated staffing structure in place would help deliver an enhanced service and would b worth the additional demand on time and resources. 


Having engaged in a variety of research methods to evaluate the needs of our users at the building design stage, it has been rewarding to see so many needs being addressed as evidenced by both greater footfall in the building as well as a higher level of user satisfaction.  While the merits of 'hard' metrics (such as usage figures) are well established, the 'softer' feedback, often articulated in person or communicated via social media channels remains essential to build up a full picture of how our users view our building and our service. Some of our choices in both design of building and organisational structure were predicated as much on instinct as evidence and it has been gratifying to witness the success of both to date.

Hugh Murphy is Senior Librarian, Collection Management Services at NUI Maynooth (Ireland).

Image courtesy of NUI Maynooth.