The Main Library has been closed since Monday 16 May 2022 for refurbishment. The changes should facilitate new study spaces and workspace for staff, as well as practical changes such as improved heating and ventilation. Almost £10 million has been investing in refurbishing the building across every floor.
Over the summer, the priority has been the noisy and disruptive work that would have been impossible to do alongside keeping the building open. This work has included the demolition of internal walls and installing a new heating and ventilation system. Whilst works will continue, the building will be open to full capacity for use as teaching starts in September. It will also return to longer opening hours.
As the Main Library was closed, the staff have been based in several different locations temporarily over the summer.
Elizabeth Andrews, Communications Officer for the Library, said, "Library staff have done a brilliant job of making sure everyone has the resources and support they need. Between shutting the Main Library and starting work at St Mary’s, there wasn’t even a single day when access to the collections or advice from our service desk was not available for our staff and students."
A key part of the improvements has included an increase in the number of study spaces as well as the variety of study spaces. When the refurbishment project is completed in early 2023, the Main Library will have more than 400 additional study spaces in the lower level. This will be an increase of more than 35% on its previous capacity.
Ms Andrews also spoke on the increased diversity of spaces which will be available to suit people’s needs.
"Student feedback has for a number of years told us that it isn’t only more spaces that was needed, but different kinds of spaces, that you can choose whether you prefer quiet study, or a collaborative space to work with others. So, we are paying close attention to lighting, noise, furniture, and other things to make sure there isn’t only more space, but higher-quality and more varied spaces. Invisible but important for everyone’s comfort, there will be a new heating and ventilation system, so for those who remember needing to borrow a Library blanket on cold days, you might be glad to hear that they won't any longer be needed."
As well as increasing the number of study spaces, the improvements to the Main Library will include combining books and shelving study spaces. The result of this is that there will be no reduction of physical collections that accessible. In 2020 a new library space was also opened at Walter Bower House in Guardbridge. This space allows staff and students to browse and read books and journals that were only previously available by ordering them up from the stacks.
"When we were planning the refurbishment of the Main Library building, we asked staff and students whether they wanted more study spaces of more open access to books and journals, and the response was: both! ... So, between both projects, we have been able to increase study pace and increase the amount of the collection that can be browsed at shelf."
The refurbished Main Library will also benefit the library staff as well as staff and students using the library. There will be a new staff workspace area, which has been designed for the specific needs of library work.
"There will be a single welcome and help desk, rather than the two separate desks that were there before, which will improve the working environment for both staff and students. Important for everyone, there will also be new areas where anyone - staff and students – can get water or make a cup of tea while in the building, adding to the drinks and snacks available in the on-site café."
When asked about the future of a university library compared to today, Ms Andrews said, "Libraries are already as much digital as they are physical, so in some ways the library of the future is already here – in your computer, wherever you are. Library buildings are changing as a result, and this refurbishment project is creating a world class Main Library fit for the future, with more collaborative and flexible spaces where staff and students can study, think, talk, and explore new ideas together."
"Libraries aren’t only for study, but also bring people together for community, creativity and wellbeing, and we will still be doing that in the future, too. But, I think the demise of the prime book has been prematurely claimed by some – St Andrews has always been a place where people love to read, and I don’t see that changing any time soon."
As a final note to staff and students, Ms Andrews spoke of the completion of the Main Library refurbishments.
"We have done the noisy and dusty work over the summer, but some other things still need to be done during semester one. Library staff are working hard to make sure that staff and students have all the resources and support they need, but there may be some limited disruption at times. We’re sorry for this – there was no easy time to do this work, and when the project is completed early in 2023 the new Main Library will definitely be worth it."
Illustration: Lauren McAndrew