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Northumbria University - City Campus Library

Background & Context


Start and End dates


2003 - December 2006; with continuation of more minor works.


Case Study tags: northumbria university, refurbishment, learning spaces, north-east englandhigher education


What was the context of the development?


In 2001 the library was full to capacity and needed a major refurbishment to get the most out of the available space. It was also looking very old-fashioned - services

and technology continued to be leading edge but the building and its learning spaces were not. Student satisfaction ratings were beginning to drop, particularly in the area of IT provision where spaces were limited and poor infrastructure prevented expansion.


Surveys and observations showed that students were trying to use the spaces in different ways but the layout and furniture worked against them. There was an increasing requirement for collaborative/group work due to a movement towards more social models of learning. Students also wanted a hybrid space with resources, study spaces, IT, secure environment and social space all under the one roof.


'Great Learning, Great Experience, Great Future' is the banner of Northumbria University and this was used to guide the design. The journey through the building had to be learner focussed; the promotion of a high quality student experience is central to the University's mission statement. The student voice is important and developments were based on sound pedagogy with support for innovation in learning and teaching.


Type of project


Refurbishment. To upgrade infrastructure, increase Library IT provision (complaints and queues) and provide an up-to-date range of learning environments to meet diverse student needs in the 21st Century.


What is it?


What has been achieved is a university library that reflects the needs of learners in the 21st century. The whole building is wireless enabled, with a total of 9 floors comprising:

  • the basement which houses the Learning Café
  • the ground floor - the welcome point to the library and its loan services
  • the first floor offers a choice of learning spaces and the hub of student support
  • floors 2-6 house the extensive and regionally significant library stock with associated study areas


What happens in the space?


Sub basement houses lesser used stock in compact shelving with associated study areas.


The Basement Learning Café expresses the importance and understanding of social and informal learning as a fundamental part of the student experience. Bean bags, easy chairs, vending machines and a shop provide students with an informal, relaxed space to discuss their work and conduct group projects.


The Ground Floor houses the Welcome Desk, inviting students staff and visitors into the building, as well as orienting them around the campus and beyond. It is also the focus for borrowing and return of Library materials using the latest RFID and self service technologies.


The first floor is the hub of student support, offering face-to-face enquiries, telephone links from all the floors, a 24/7 helpline service and wireless laptop loans. It also offers a choice of learning spaces for group and individual use, including:

  • An IT area with PCs
  • Bookable Research hubs
  • A flexible learning space which allows students to reconfigure furniture and IT to suit their changing requirements
  • Information Skills teaching rooms


Floors 2-6 offer wireless-enabled study areas which are generally quiet study areas, fixed access to IT and access to the library stock. The Learner Support team visits all areas of the building to offer a one-to-one enquiry service at the student's workspace throughout the day.




Funding Sources


Mainly University recurrent funds.


Cost of Project






All the campus is flooded with wireless and students can access the learning portal using Citrix.


Through the Learning Portal, the students can access(among other services):

  • the Skills Plus programme (written by the Library and Learning Services staff, together with Student Services, covering information literacy, research and study skills)
  • NORA - a much improved search engine that gives access to the library's online resources
  • Blackboard Learning Platform


Laptops for loan are available from Floor 1.


The space includes a large number of fixed PCs and printers.


Innovative Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID) book tags are being used to make self-service borrowing and return of books the norm.


Smart Boards and audio-visual equipment planned for the study rooms.


Smartcard access and using to pilot 24x7 in May 2007.


Students receive emails warning them that their books are due for return. They can then renew online (this has been a facility for staff for some years).


Adding Value


The Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) book tags together with the streamlined self-check machines have allowed a completely new ground floor layout that helps users to borrow and return items, access the Keytext collection and check their loan details quickly and intuitively. As a result self-service issues have risen from 16% to 82% in 12 months (as of December 2006).


The Smartcard system (introduced in 2001) has simplified access to a range of Library Services, provided security for users and generated management information from which services were planned and foundations laid for a cost effective extension of opening hours. Functionality has been gradually extended to included membership of the Students' Union, Sport Northumbria, 24/7 access to IT facilities in Pandon Building, and car parking at the Coach Lane Campus. In September 2006, the card was used for the first time to support Academic Registry with online student enrolment. From September 2007, the card will be used to control access to the new City Campus East and out-of-hours access to other university buildings.


The wireless network allows students to work anywhere on campus, and the library provides them with a secure and welcoming environment that combines many services and facilities in one space, with long opening hours so that the students enjoy meeting and studying there.


The warnings emails and online renewal system has resulted in a 42% increase in online renewals and better circulation of stock for the benefit of other users.


Skills Plus has been integrated into academic programmes and students are able to include it in their Personal Development Portfolios.


Contact Details


Christine Willoughby, Assistant Director Christine.Willoughby@northumbria.ac.uk


Case study written December 2006.