If you want information, just Google it!

If that is so, what value do libraries and archives add to the experience of higher education, and who actually needs them?

By James Harrison, Associate architect

The millennial generation are tech savvy and own the digital domain, so what makes a library or archive a resource they want to use or indeed need? Smartphones have made many products obsolete – think address books, cameras, wristwatches, torches, alarm clocks, navigation systems, pocket calculators – the list goes on. Whole sectors of physicality are also being threatened, as apps allow us to bank, shop and book holidays with the jab of a thumb. And there is, of course, no reason to think that the library in its traditional form will be immune to these pressures.

Generation Z are multi-taskers who find social media and texting hard to resist, it’s where they share and it is where libraries need to be linked into. The front door to the library or archive might not necessarily be a physical one, but its invitation must be strong enough to ensure a gravitational pull towards the physical building. This new generation is very collaborative and team orientated and want to be able to work in groups to discover and learn. The library, therefore, needs flexible working spaces that respond to group working while forming the interface between the physical media and the user – the exchange point if you like.

While we might point to Google for information, we should point to libraries for knowledge

Our design for a new History Centre in Plymouth sees the exchange point take the form of a blended environment which contains not only access points to information but retail shopping, café culture, interactive discovery points and ways to tempt the user to further investigate the treasure that is history. Barriers have been reduced to allow a retail experience to turn into an educational exploration pulling users into the new facilities. It is this serendipitous exploration which appeals to the new millennials using their well-honed digital media filtering to find what is useful and what is not, whilst listening to music on headphones, texting their friends and drinking a flat white simultaneously.

And so, while we might point to Google for information, we should point to libraries for knowledge. Knowledge that can be filtered by our own in-built search engines; knowledge that can be consumed and digested with ease. The victors in the past had the honour of writing the history – today anyone can write history and the library or archive should act as the filter of what is important.

Libraries have the potential to be the portal to human’s accumulated knowledge of the world, and however this is accessed – be it digitally or physically – the library needs to evolve to be the fulcrum around which the student learning experience is wound.

James is responsible for a team of architects, interior designers and architectural illustrators in our Exeter office. An award winning designer who specialises in libraries and archives, he is passionate about concept design and relishes difficult design problems that require original thoughts and ideas.

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