Guest blog from Karen Goulding of The Hub: “Oh Wow”

“Oh Wow!”

I received this email recently:

“I am the Subject Librarian for Classroom Resources at the University of Chichester so I would be really interested to hear how you select, display and promote your stock.  I can bring some photos of our collection and hopefully we could share ideas.  I asked to visit Reading because I was particularly impressed with the way that the collection was promoted on the website”

What struck me was the line: “I was particularly impressed with the way that the collection was promoted on the website”

It got me thinking about how The Learning Hub had impressed someone who had not visited and also how, upon entering the building many visitors utter the phrase: “Oh Wow!” or its equivalent.

How did The Learning Hub create the ‘Oh Wow!’ factor? Firstly by involving the stakeholders; during the first meeting of key stakeholders in June 2014, I asked the group to write a letter addressed: ‘wishes and worries’. These are some of the responses

Wishes:

  • To reinvigorate and extend provision and opening hours.
  • Greater student, school & teacher use.
  • External & internal courses running in the space.
  • Expanded lending stock.
  • Increased marketing of student services.
  • See the space used in a more dynamic way.
  • Having a more visible presence on social media.

Worries:

  • Important to distinguish between resources that can be loaned and those that cannot.
  • Ensure we maintain and improve flexible cross-curricular resources.
  • Ensure the space will fulfil different functions, with different separate entities.

Upon reviewing these statements a year later, all agreed their ‘wishes’ had been realised and the worries had not materialised.

It appears that by involving key individuals in the change process at the earliest stages of repurposing gives the change driver an insight into not only the obstacles which could impede the very change that is envisaged, but also provides clear areas of action that will drive the change forward. The wished changes are not the sole reserve of the change driver, change has already occurred even if it is only in the expressed wishes of statement makers. These key statements can be adhered to, revisited and used as a framework for the journey ahead.

The email I referred to contained the phrase “I wanted to visit Reading because I was particularly impressed with the way that the collection was promoted”. It appears that she is intrigued by the images of the space that made The Learning Hub ‘stand out’ from other resource centres. Could this be due to the blurring of lines between The Learning Hub’s purpose and its image?

As already mentioned most new visitors expressed an ‘Oh Wow!’ response upon entering the building and sometimes asked what the space was for; some asked whether it was a library or a shop. It is neither and this blurring of the purpose of the building is an element that perhaps gives the space an unique and distinctive edge; it has moved away from the ordinary to the extraordinary by adjusting the expectations of what a resource centre should look like; it is a resource centre but this isn’t immediately obvious and it therefore surprises the visitor by blurring the expectations of what it should look like. Hence the “Wow” factor.

It could be argued that the building should have a clear purpose for its users but if that was the case then the Subject Librarian would not be visiting: the space wouldn’t stand out and it wouldn’t inform or develop beyond the confines of its building. One could argue that to create extraordinary teachers, one needs extraordinary teaching spaces, not just in the conventional sense, within a classroom, but also through all the spaces they engage with. By blurring the lines and modelling a different type of environment, that is not obvious to the visitor, The Learning Hub provides a model for the future development of other spaces. Visitors to The Learning Hub at the Institute of Education will perhaps create extraordinary elements within their own spaces and hopefully we will all benefit: “Oh Wow!” Indeed.