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Scenes from the Protolib bunker

Hello Futurelib blog reader! It’s been a long time hasn’t it? We’ve been on something of a rollercoaster ride since our last post here in mid-January. It’s been non-stop, very fast, occasionally hair-raising, but mainly exciting. As I write the ride has slowed down (a little) and we’re heading for the exit.

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A very brief bit about me:

I’m David Marshall, usually found working in Reader Services at the UL. I joined the Protolib project full time recently after being part of the initial project group, and have spent the last two weeks helping to prepare for the next stage of its implementation.

Where we are with the project:

The working routines of both researchers and students involve a wide range of different activities and preferences.  The Protolib project is exploring how we as libraries can best support these, in terms of the provision of physical library spaces.

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The Big LEGO Workshop

As the Protolib project continues we are currently feeding user study space preferences into new prototype spaces that will be launched in January 2016 inside and outside of libraries. Alongside these new spaces we also hope to gather further information on use of existing study spaces in libraries (Cambridge librarians – watch out for a briefing announcement if you want to get involved). Much of the information gathered so far was derived via the Big LEGO Workshop which took place on Wednesday 2nd December and was attended by students and researchers at all levels and from many different disciplines. Kirsten Lamb, a member of the Protolib project team, was one of a number of librarian participants. Here are her thoughts and reflections on the afternoon…

Here’s a LEGO fact for you: did you know that using only six of the eight-stud LEGO bricks you can build 915,103,765 different combinations? That’s quite the variety from a humble plastic brick and after building models with students from throughout Cambridge at the Big LEGO Workshop for the Protolib project I’m inclined to think that there are a similar number of permutations in study space preferences. Not only did the workshop reveal a wide variety of study needs across the group, but individuals expressed contrary needs depending on what task they were involved in. What does this mean in terms of designing library spaces? Can we be all things to all people all the time? Should we even try? The ideas we grappled with during the workshop were much bigger than our miniature models suggested.
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The North Star Project

Hot on the heels of the launch of the Protolib project, of which more soon, this post unveils the brand new North Star project which will run in parallel to Protolib. North Star will explore the potential value of a new (as yet unbuilt) research platform intended for Cambridge University’s academic and researchers. The idea is that this platform (or layer) – the North Star of the project title – might:

  • simplify the publication process for academics
  • promote academics and their research output via a single academic profile
  • act as a shopfront for Cambridge University’s world-leading research
  • build research collections for a Cambridge journal, department, or research groups
  • ensure compliance with requirements for the next Research Excellence Framework Continue Reading

Protolib: prototyping library spaces at Cambridge University

PROTOLIB: a Cambridge University project exploring user experience of library spaces through a process of prototyping and ethnographic research. Protolib’s findings will directly inform our choices and priorities when building new library environments or modifying existing spaces to better fulfil the needs of 21st Century students and researchers.

We all know that use of academic library spaces has changed and is still changing all around us. The wider availability of electronic materials has led to increased remote use of our services and an understanding that libraries have embraced digital. Elsewhere the perception that we are only about books and silent disciplined study persists and sets the tone for our interactions with students and researchers, as does the idea that information is free and that librarians are simply relics of a bygone era when it was all under lock and key. However widespread and inaccurate these beliefs may be the reality is that footfall and printed book loans are now falling in many libraries and have been for some time. However, in other libraries, footfall is steady or increasing as we see users choosing to visit the library for reasons other than printed collections, to: seek staff advice and assistance; work alongside their friends; access computers; or work in a particular type of study space. What are the reason why some of today’s students, researchers and academics choose to visit libraries while others do not? Protolib hopes to find some answers to these questions.

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“That I Like!” – the launch of Spacefinder

“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.

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WhoHas? The final report on Cambridge’s sub-lending experiment

Here at Cambridge University, during Easter Term of last year, we explored the idea of enabling sub-lending between peers at three different site libraries selecting Facebook Groups as our platform. Although the project was unsuccessful in terms of the number of legitimised sub-lending transactions, the student diary studies and exit interviews undertaken proved very illuminating. Final report (PDF).

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Spacefinder: data, roadshows and designing the user interface

I write this blogpost at a crucial point in the Spacefinder project. We have a user interface that has been tested and is working (let’s just agree to forget about that dodgy bitly link at the English Faculty roadshow!) and contains an initial dataset comprising spaces in 4 libraries as well as many of Cambridge’s coffee shops and bars. The next stage relies on librarians across Cambridge to firstly agree to having their library spaces become part of the Spacefinder pilot, and secondly to describe these spaces in such a way that they can be fed in to the system consistently. Thanks are due to all of those librarians who have already agreed. I will be in touch again soon with full details of how we need to receive your space data. We recognise that you are the very best people to describe and record the features of your own spaces, but also that you will be very shortly gearing up for the new academic year. However, we estimate that it will take you no more than half an hour, probably a lot less to do this for us. And help is at hand should you get stuck.

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Insights from the WhoHas pilot

This is a guest post from Modern Human’s Paul-Jervis Heath about the WhoHas project which has already been introduced here in several previous blogposts. Paul and his team have been working over Easter term with a project team of librarians – huge thanks to Jo Milton, Helen Murphy and Meg Westbury and their colleagues – to pilot a prototype of this concept. The results are now in and I think you’ll agree that they make for very interesting reading…

Andy Priestner, FutureLib Project Manager

Over to Paul…

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SpaceFinder Update

I thought it would be useful and possibly even interesting to share recent progress with our SpaceFinder project since Kirsten’s excellent post two weeks ago. Firstly I should say if you don’t know what SpaceFinder is yet the very best thing you can do is go back and read that post as it tells you everything you need to know.

So what has happened since then? Well, quite a lot actually…

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