“It’s a brand new website that shows you the library spaces and cafes where you can study across Cambridge…”


Me mid-demo last Tuesday (Photo: Angela Pittock)

I probably said that sentence (and variations of the same) at least 500 times last week as I promoted the heck out of the new Spacefinder service from behind the libraries stall at Cambridge University’s 2015 Freshers’ Fair. Thankfully I was to discover that as far as the new undergraduates were concerned Spacefinder as good as sold itself. Almost everyone I spoke to seemed to grasp the value of the service immediately. And for those understandably overwhelmed at the prospect of starting their academic careers, the look in their eyes suggested that Spacefinder might just offer something of a light in the darkness.


Formally launched last Tuesday, to coincide with the Fair, Spacefinder now boasts around 130 spaces and more are being added all the time. Clowns café was added just yesterday and we have more library spaces on the way too (the Computer Laboratory and Physics). It may not yet be as comprehensive as TripAdvisor when it comes to café coverage but its getting there and of course it has libraries too. Whether a student prefers to study in libraries or cafes or likes a mixture of both, whether they need to work in a group or alone, Spacefinder will show them a space nearby that matches their immediate need and illuminate all those hidden spaces across the city.


Three enthusiastic freshers who thought Spacefinder a very good idea

All the responses to the service I heard were unanimously positive and enthusiastic.

“This is really going to help, I was beginning to feel very lost”

“What a great idea I love working in cafes”

“I’m definitely going to be using this. A lot”

“Great, I wanted to know where I could hunker down and study”

and my personal favourite from one particularly emphatic guy:

“THAT I like!”

I was quite surprised to find the Fair was visited by numerous 2nd, 3rd and 4th years whose reaction to the service was possibly even more enthusiastic:

“This is exactly what Cambridge has been crying out for”

“I’ve been looking for a service like this for 3 years!”

“This is perfect for me. I mix it up all the time and spend an hour in a library then move to another one”

By the second day on the stall it was obvious that librarians across Cambridge had already started to so a sterling job of promoting Spacefinder at inductions – thanks guys – as some students told me that they already knew about it and thought it a great idea and a few even made for the stall just to congratulate us.


Our compass keyrings weren’t as clever as some people assumed

The only confusion was around the fact that the service was free (“What you’re just giving us this?” “Yes we’re librarians this is what we do”) and that Spacefinder was somehow built in to the branded compass promotional keyrings we were giving away (“Wow so it’s all in there? Do I just point it?” “Er, no, that’s just a keyring”). Quite a few people also asked if Spacefinder was an app. I explained we’d gone for a website so we didn’t have to design for ios, Android or Windows and most of them seemed to just accept that (“Right so I’ll just favourite it then, cool”)


A helpful tweet from the Cambridge University account

Spacefinder saw a lot of Twitter action over the two days as I used the Futurelib account and my own in tandem to whip up something of a frenzy (a frenzette?) helped in no small part by tweets and retweets from the official Cambridge University account. Swizzels Matlow even tweeted in to congratulate me on my choice of Double Lollies and Fizzers as freebies. And look I just mentioned them again so if there’s not a lorry load of sweets on their way to my house right now then they’re just not getting the hint (come on guys).


Martin (‘libraries go great with pizza’) French in action during a very busy period


KC pleased to see Spacefinder became a reality

One of my personal highlights was meeting one of the doctoral students again, KC, who had taken part in the STEM collaborative design workshop for Spacefinder back in May. He was very excited to see the service he had helped make a reality, saying: “I can’t believe you actually made it!”

I must just take this opportunity to thank the wonderful people who I shared the libraries stall with who happily acted as a kind of ‘gateway drug’ to Spacefinder by way of LibGuides and more general library info…


Pri Pais (my first partner in crime)

Pri from the UL entrance hall (arguably the best, most customer service-focused team in the entire University) was my first partner in crime and she was so enthusiastic and adept at passing people on to me that I really didn’t want her to go. Happily she was replaced by the irrepressible Martin from SPRI who had the best sales patter of anyone I worked with over the two days (“Libraries – they’ve got books in them” being the stand-out winner). Martin is pictured further above. Unfortunately by the time lovely Mary (also UL) arrived I was very much regretting the choice of a sweatshirt and t-shirt for the baking hot conditions. She didn’t complain though and was far too polite to say anything.


Celia Varthamalaou and yours truly

Day 2 kicked off with Lorraine from Hughes Hall who I could have chatted to all day (I had to remind myself that I was there to work), followed by the wonderful Celia (who introduced herself by saying “I’m only a fetcher at the UL”, “There’s nothing only about being a fetcher” I replied).  Celia was brilliant and seemed to be able to answer any library question thrown at her, plus she got me free pizza twice so I am forever in her debt. Last but by no means least Digital Services’ Angela Pittock who had organised the whole stall AND us, and did a darn good job of it (there aren’t many people who can make me behave).


Mary Kattuman and Rose Giles (other way up Rose!)


Angela Pittock helping out another new undergraduate

As the Fair started to wind down Angela threw some (unforgettable) shapes to Dancing Queen and we chatted about how we were in libraries because of the contact with people. And boy did we meet a lot of people at the Fair! I must also give a massive ‘thank you’ to the UL’s Rose Giles who represented Spacefinder on the stall all the time when I wasn’t there. We compared notes during a changeover and agreed that we seemed to have success on our hands.


Some more freshers happy to discover Spacefinder

Some of you reading this may have experienced some technical problems with Spacefinder that are web browser- or device-specific. The service was tested on a whole range of different browsers and devices but there are still a few known loading and location problems that are being looked into. Information on access restrictions and disability will also soon appear as part of each space profile too. There were always going to be some glitches needing resolving but for a pilot service I think it’s working pretty well. A quick shout-out to the guys at Modern Human who are working on those issues and to Paul, Lesley, Tristram and Lihua in Digital Services for their technical support.


The nearest study spaces to Dundee!

On Spacefinder Day 1 we had 565 sessions (445 of which were unique users) so the initial figures look very promising too. Talking of numbers, I wrote this post in Dundee on Thursday evening (I was training library staff  in UX techniques the following day) and was happy to see Spacefinder was still working, although my nearest study spaces – Jesus Green and the Maypole – were 388 miles away!

I currently plan to visit as many Cambridge University libraries as I possibly can on Monday and Tuesday (12-13 October) with Spacefinder posters and goodies so I might see some of you very soon.