Startling Shelving!


Although the old adage of never judging a book by its cover is worth bearing in mind, what about judging or not judging a book by the shelf or furniture on which it sits?!

I was reading a blog post about a book shop in Australia. They reported that they’d replaced two aisles of cheap metal bookshelves with wooden shelves and interestingly found that there was a twenty percent increase in sales from the stock on the wooden shelves over the six months following the change. The blog post suggests that the timber has a particular warmth that made people feel comfortable when browsing in those aisles and so they spent more time there and ended up buying more.
This got me thinking about the importance of our surroundings and how something as simple as shelving in libraries or bookshops can have such an impact on how people feel in those spaces. What subliminal messages do tired, old and frequently wonky shelving send to users of libraries? Obviously there are cost implications in the kind of shelving a library can invest in but there’s nothing to stop us using shelving imaginatively rather than in straight and predictable lines. I found some wonderful photos of innovative use of shelving that inspired me to think about my heaving bookshelves at home and how space can be used creatively and attractively to invite people into libraries and make them exciting places to spend time in –  and that’s before you even get to picking up a stimulating book!

Runway Reading



Sometimes innovative ideas can sound so simple that it’s easy to wonder how nobody ever thought of this or that before..

One such idea came to my attention last week and I thought it was perfect for a post because it shows how something seemingly obvious in some ways can still show true innovation.

I’m speaking of the Library at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Here passengers at the Airport can relax in a quiet environment away from the hustle and bustle of the main Airport Terminal. 1200 books are available, translated into 29 languages. There are also films and music and  that can be downloaded onto ipads and listened to or viewed while passengers await flight connections. It also has one large screen with changing thematic photo exhibitions. Naturally the library has proved popular attracting over a million users in three years.

The library is made possible through funding from the Dutch Ministry for Education and some other partners. When I first heard of the idea I was stunned by the brilliance and simplicity of it yet the fact that this is the first permanent Airport Library in the world, established in 2006 shows that it is a truly innovative concept and endeavour.

A little further research revealed that there are similar projects in progress at some airports in the United States, such as Cherry Capital Airport in Michigan where Signage with QR codes and instructions on usage are displayed in the airport’s baggage claim and terminal areas with links to a collection of literary classics.  These can be downloaded free of charge and no library card is required so it couldn’t be easier.

Of course airports aren’t the only unusual places that libraries can be found and now that digital material is so easily accessible there are few limits to where libraries can exist and even if physical books are desired there’s no shortage of innovative schemes for providing access. How about the Mongolian Children’s Mobile Library

which carries books to nomadic herding communities on the back of a camel to remote areas of the Gobi desert? When it comes to innovation and libraries even the sky is unlikely to be the limit!


Our best friends?

dog (10)

Not so long ago, the idea of bringing dogs/cats or other furry, cuddly companions into the Library for stress relief during exam time was raised but  it’s not something that’s happened – as yet.

I did a little bit of research into the success of these type of events and their popularity. I was amazed to see how many higher education libraries in the USA are regularly using pet therapy to provide some quiet time between animal and human to help ease the pressure of exams .

One organization, Pet Partners has even gone so far as to create an hour long webinar specifically aimed at educational institutions hosting events for students involving animal therapy.

So, what are the benefits of animal therapy. Research has shown that stroking a dog can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, lift mood and provide a general sense of well-being.

Hear some students discussing their enjoyment of an event at Clarkson University.

Bringing animals to libraries during exam time is becoming a regular feature at many universities across the United States so perhaps it’s not considered a new and innovative thing any more. In the UK I would argue it is and a very effective one. The only place I could find offering this kind of activity was University of Warwick who ran the scheme last year and it proved so popular it’s back this year.

The pets could also be positioned outside the library as visitors enter as has happened at some of the American library sites if there are complications with bringing them indoors though a designated room could also be arranged.

Is this something you would like to see happen here at The University of Manchester Library? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


An exciting addition is coming soon to the Learning Commons in the shape of a Sleep Pod (one of the ideas from Eureka 2014).

This is great news indeed but has got me thinking of other ways the Library can potentially assist students with relaxation aids.

I had the idea of a meditation suite, equipped with a number of small booths (bookable or open access) with a comfy chair (or cushion, if preferred).

Headphones could be provided with options for various guided meditations of differing lengths.

Research has shown that even a three minute breathing exercise can be helpful in lowering stress levels and calming the nervous system, so if a student is pushed for time they could just pop in for this – or ten minutes or fifteen minutes.

There could be meditations with instructions on breathing and mindfulness exercises or just relaxing music or nature sounds (rain fall or bird song) depending on individual tastes.

The lighting in the room would be low and calming with perhaps some artwork designed to calm and centre the person entering.

During the well-being activities the Library hosted during exam time in January 2014, many of the students commented that they enjoyed these activities because it didn’t mean giving up their study space as they could literally nip upstairs for massage or meditation and return in less than half an hour, refreshed and focused to get on with their work,

The meditation suite would require minimum staffing and offer an easy but effective way for time out during both exam time and any other time.


Meet me on the Corner!


I’ve been thinking about the amount of time we spend in meetings and how we could find some innovative ways of both improving our experience of meetings, as well as making them potentially more productive.

Some members of this group may remember a day last summer when we spontaneously decided to have our meeting outside in the sunshine and tree shade (partly because we were gathered outside for a photograph) but it did get me thinking…why we don’t have more meetings outdoors (weather permitting). If information needs to be presented electronically we have numerous ways of bringing portable technology outdoors with us. Being in a different environment to the one we spend most of our time in (which is for most of us, indoors, in front of a computer) immediately puts us in a different frame of mind, potentially the right frame of mind to innovate and look for creative solutions.

Likewise, with smaller meetings of two or three people perhaps we could occasionally employ the” walking meeting” as recently documented in The Guardian and other places

There are many obvious benefits, including health ones, and in terms of innovation, changing the scene  helps change and challenge old ways of thinking.  It even frees up space in the library and keeps us more in touch with our local communities.

It certainly feels like a good idea to me!

Could this be the next phase of our “Book a Space” Facility?

It’s great to see Jade Brodie’s winning Eureka idea become a reality in the Main Library.

I was interested to discover a slightly similar but a little more complicated project that’s been implemented in Harvard University using an online booking system called Inscripto. The system works using a functionality similar to booking a seat on an aeroplane, choosing a study carrel based on a map of locations throughout the library space. They can choose spaces based on other relevant data such as proximity to their research area by positioning themselves close to particular call numbers.  The software also allows users who may share the space, to communicate with each other to negotiate usage and even to charge loanable items to the study space so they can be easily at hand.

I think the real beauty of this facility is the visibility of the different locations in map form as  currently when rooms are booked there is little information on where they are positioned within various buildings. Selecting rooms and even individual study spaces on a location map could be really useful in terms of navigating buildings and alerting people to spaces they may not even know existed.

You can read more about the project.

Showtime in the Library!

It’s something that’s been said before but something that perhaps needs repeating in order for us to continue to be innovative in a variety of ways – innovation extends beyond embracing or employing technology.  I’ve been thinking a little about  the winning Eureka ideas put forward by Harriet Hill-Payne involving using a part of the library as an exhibition space for items from the library’s rich and varied special collections. This got me thinking about the arts within libraries in general and as a big music fan I thought what about using the library as a space for performance? This could include drama as well as music. I’m aware that  University of Manchester already has performance spaces around campus (as well as exhibition space, of course) but the idea of holding performances in the library could be seen as a way of bringing people into the library who may not otherwise be aware of what it offers them and increase its profile. Naturally the space used would need to be sound-proofed and/or not close to areas for silent study.


Get it Loud in Libraries is an initiative launched initially by Lancaster Library and now active in many libraries throughout the North West which showcases music in public libraries with the intention of involving and engaging young people. It’s been hugely successful and is intending to spread further afield in the near future with backing from the PRS and Arts Council.

Within academic libraries there’s the possibility of lunchtime classical musical recitals or evening events that could involve popular music by student bands or higher profile acts.  These could even be linked with aspects of our collections. Having a performance space could enrich the Library artistically and culturally and would likely connect closely with many students. It could also be used for poetry readings and talks by authors which are more traditionally found in public libraries, though I can’t see any reason why not  in academic libraries.  There is an interesting and innovative programme of cultural/artistic activities going on in Harvard College Library  that could be an avenue other academic libraries may also wish to explore . As a University with a strong artistic heritage showcasing  some of examples this  through a programme of events within the library could potentially be an exciting new development.