Wednesday, 28 November 2007

IC Filming

Spent a pleasant couple of hours at lunchtime in the Information Commons with some journalism students who were filming a piece to be broadcast on SteelTV which launches on Friday. This is a TV channel which is being set up by the student newspaper, Steel Press. The piece is going to be on what students think of the IC, 6 months after its opening. I was interviewed and asked a number of questions, including whether many students are in the IC at night and whether it's worth opening for 24 hours. Our view is that it is - at busy times there can be several hundred students in the building overnight, and even when it's quiet, there can be 30 to 40. The quietest time is from 5am to 8am. The 24*7 nature of the building was one of the key demands from students during the design phase of the building. Oh, they were also interested in rumours that students were getting up to "no good" in the group study rooms and the shower!

It will be interesting to see what spin the students put on the piece. If my experience with Steel Press is anything to go by, it might not be all that positive! I don't care what they say - I think it's a fantastic building (I think I may have said that before....), and I still smile when I go in. It's an incredibly satisfying experience to see something grow from an idea, through outline sketches, to detailed drawings and plans and finally to a real building. It really is the result of a partnership - between CiCS and the Library, the Estates department, the project mangers and the consultant team, especially the architects. I'd like to do it again now. Roll on Phase 3...


Anonymous said...

They seem quite positive on the whole thing. There must be some bribery going on here....

clicky clicky

Chris Sexton said...

hhmm. I'll reserve my judgement until I see the film clip!

Anonymous said...

Of course if you only interview the people in the IC you'll get nothing but positive reviews. How about coming over to the Main Lib to ask those staff, students and researchers who need a real library (with journals, stacks and dedicated collections) what they think about having the ML's opening hours and staffing levels cut to help fund the IC's 24/7 Facebook palace...

Martin said...

Hi anonymous. Okay, first, the WBL hours haven't been cut to fund the IC. They were reduced (slightly) this year because of the reduction in the Library's revenue budget for 2007/08. I hope they'll be extended again soon if the financial situation improves from 2008/09. BTW, the exam-time 24/7 opening in the WBL over the last couple of years was a temporary measure pending the opening of the IC, and the Library has always made it clear that that resource would transfer to the IC when it opened.

Second, some staff transferred from the WBL to the IC because a lot of undergraduate transactions and footfall moved to the IC. Service levels in the WBL haven't been reduced. If you've experienced a reduction in service please let me know and I'll investigate.

Facebook palace, hmmm. Actually what impresses me on visits to the IC is how hard most students there are working.

The IC certainly is a real library, just different from the type you may have been used to. But friends of the WBL will be pleased to know that we have plans to redevelop the space to make the collections more accessible and improve the quality of the study spaces.

Martin Lewis
Director of Library Services & University Librarian

Anonymous said...

Hi anonymous. Okay, first, the WBL hours haven't been cut to fund the IC. They were reduced (slightly) this year because of the reduction in the Library's revenue budget for 2007/08. I hope they'll be extended again soon if the financial situation improves from 2008/09.

Hm. So the university spends £27m on the Information Commons, and the Library's revenue budget is reduced. No connection at all? Not even the slightest coincidence? :)

What confuses me is the mixed message the university is sending out about the IC. On the one hand it's a library, on the other it's a study centre. Truth is, I don't believe it does either particularly well. Moving most undergraduate text books to the IC has diluted one very good library into two moderately good ones. So I'm now forced to move between two sites to find books in one place and journals in another, for instance.

As a study centre, the IC also fails to impress. The crazy-paving style of tables and blue partitions is space inefficient and the tables are too shallow to allow for spacious working. They're also finished in a nasty plastic surface that is hard and liable to crack around the edges.

The acoustics are also pretty poor... expensive sound absorbers on the walls don't do enough to cancel out the effect of tall voids and hard concrete ceilings.

What is saddest - and as an architecture student I'm sticking my head above the parapet to say this - is that it is such a disappointing building architecturally. I chatted with Matt Cartwright when he came to speak to SUAS, and (I'm said to confess) got quite ballsy with him over drinks afterwards. It simply doesn't feel like a £27m building, and saying this to him solicited a somewhat sad and reluctant admittance of guilt. Walking in from the street is the most disappointing entrance of any library / study centre I've ever visited. The main staircase is too small, too functional and too cheap. The signage and flatscreen graphics appear to have been designed by a colour-blind primary schoolchild and attached all over the place by a shareholder of Blu-Tak Plc. And once you do get upstairs, the desks and chairs feel as though they could have been lifted from any office or call centre in the country. The massively publicised energy efficiency of the building must surely be made worthless by all the strip lights on the stacks that flicker on and off (remember, strip lights are more energy consuming that regular bulbs if they are constantly turned on and off).

The ML may be outdated and shabby, but the acoustics in the main reading room are soft, warm and nurture the silence. The leather covered desks are soft and inviting to a blank piece of paper (try it... take a biro and a piece of paper to both places and tell me which one is nice for making notes in). The ML also has a respectable series of spaces that lead you from the concourse into the reading room, gradually preparing you for the silent, studious and warm heart of the building. The IC has an incoherent and spatially confusing layout that means there is a constant overlap between noisier computer areas and the supposedly quieter study spaces.

I have complained, and I will continue to complain. But what breaks my heart is that the money has been spent, and it can't be unspent. And I'm not going to spend £1.55 on crap coffee (one of the most expensive brews at this end of town) to help pay for it.

But with a constantly changing student population, I guess the old farts like me who remember the "good ol' days" will gradually move on, and people won't complain any more :)

Chris Sexton said...

I'm afraid we shall just have to agree to differ. We knew that we wouldn't please everyone, and that's why the IC hasn't replaced anything - the WBL is still there. If you prefer it, then use it. As an architecture student you'll know how subjective design is. We are just pleased that so many students like it. And I can confirm Martin's comment - the revenue budget for the Library, and the capital costs of the IC are different and not connected.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why so many architects remain anonymous - probably because they can't own up to being the "designers" of the monstrosities that they foist on the public

Anonymous said...

I remain anonymous (and I'm the bloke who posted replies #3 and #5) because although I used to blog on Blogger, I closed my account and moved to Wordpress (hey, it's where the cool kids are, it doesn't crash as much, and it's outside the evil Google empire :)

So for the record, I'm James, and you can find me here:

Happily complaining about all manner of modern life in Sheffield