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Sören Niehäuser: The library as the main learning space in university – chance or risk?


Historically, the function of libraries in Colleges and Universities has been to store printed media and provide it to teachers and scholars for learning and research. As it was often not allowed to take books on loan to work at home, the library also has a long tradition of being a „Learning Centre“ where students sooner or later will have to come to work.

All that described above has changed a lot since a couple of years. Online ressources, E-books etc. have become more and more important, students have become more and more mobile in their work with Laptops etc.

Interestingly, as the library environment has the reputation of beeing a good place to learn, at least in Germany the use of library buildings as learning space has to the joy of the library officials,not decreased, but in the contrary, significantly increased, much aided by the provision of of highspeed W-Lan, Power Sockets etc.

With that developments in mind, it seems easy to argue: „We (as Library/Librarians) will remain very important in the academic world as we are the preffered learning environment which we provide to the students together with our information ressources, print and online.“ But will that be the case? University officials in Germany sometimes argue: „Well, objectively seen the refectory can provide learning space as well, as can multi-function seminar rooms etc., there is no need to focus on the library when it comes to learning space, its just a question of the right technical equipment, furniture etc.“

Nontheless it seems that students prefer libraries for their learning, even if the university provides learning space somewhere else. Undoubtedly thats a nice thing for us as librarians, but that leads to important questions:
Is being a „Learning space“ the future of the library? Can providing space for learning really compensate the possible loss of the importance of physically accessed media?

And more practical: What makes a library such a good learning space that it will be the long term winner of the „competion of the different learning spaces“? What can, on the long run, the library offer that other service providers can’t?

Sören Niehäuser