Library staff with Erasmus in Scotland
A report by Martin Enßlen / Translated from German by Jake Pietras
As librarian of the University and District Library Bonn-Rhein-Sieg, I had the opportunity to visit the renowned and internationally established Saltire Centre in Glasgow, Scotland, in line with the EU-programme Erasmus+ in November 2015. But it is not just a library. It is a Learning Centre and a cafeteria as well.
Beautiful architecture on the way to the Learning Centre in Saltire Centre of the University of Glasgow. Photo: Martin Enßlen
Saltire Centre is the core of the Caledonian University’s library and one of three university libraries in the city of Glasgow. The Learning Centre has 1800 workplaces and the café offers seats for 600 visitors.
The Learning Centre not only offers common library services for about 16,000 students, but functions as a helpdesk as well, providing advice about the life on campus. Answering questions regarding study financing, IT support or offering assistance to foreign students is an inherent part of the Learning Centre’s consulting services. Saltire Centre was opened in 2006 and received multiple awards for its impressive architecture. It is considered to be one of the most modern institutions of its kind.
But the design is not the only reason to get more familiar with the building itself. The services and working in an English speaking environment make it worth visiting the institution as well. It was also very convenient that Glasgow domiciles two additional university libraries. I had the chance to visit them as well and to get to know how they operate.
Architecture and organization supports interaction
While designing Saltire Centre, social interaction and conversation were considered a major aspect of learning. This was the reason for installing a learning café with 600 seats on the first floor. Various couches and learning furniture enable students to spend their day comfortably in the café. In the building’s centre, a spiry staircase leads to the upper four floors, which respectively are connected via a system of bridges. There is a learning room on each level providing space for 400 students. The lower floors are equipped with PCs and designed as working space for groups or individuals. The higher up the floors, the more restrictive the noise levels are. On the highest floor there is a bright room for silent work, which deliberately hasn’t been equipped with desktop PCs to keep the volume level to an absolute minimum.
Students seeking a contact person don’t even have to visit the reference desk on the second floor necessarily. With a bit of luck they can come across one of the so-called ‘roving librarians’. These shift-working employees working the book shelves, provide information and help visitors with research advice. They use tablets to show and explain various research possibilities and note customer requests by topic in a Google document. The data is then transmitted to a database for later evaluation.
Advanced digital transformation
Using cloud services is a very liberal act in Scottish educational institutions. Concerns about data protection and privacy are less common in the public compared to the views in Germany. For example, I found out that courses are planned and structured with trello.com, while talking to the e-learning department. User feedback is gathered on padlet.com. Digital transformation is written with a capital D at Saltire Centre, just like at the University and District Library Bonn-Rhein-Sieg. The department for Digital Development creates new services, which are published to the Internet for free as Open Educational Resources (OER). One of these portals is PILOT, which provides scientists with all useful information about publishing. A few days ago, another platform of the university went online, called edShare@GCU. The university’s teachers can use it to provide filmed educational material to students and to the public.
Consulting and seminars of the Learning Centre
Despite all these digital innovations, personal contact still plays an important role. The Academic Liasion department maintains close contact with the lecturers and holds seminars for literature search and management. The close collaboration between teachers and professors is striking. The library’s seminars are an inherent part and are permanently set in the students’ curriculum. Besides their duties in the lecture halls, the Academic Liasion team offers consultation appointments for individuals.
Students switching from a college to a higher semester at the university pose a very special challenge. They often come from educationally deprived strata and have little knowledge of scientific work. Glasgow is always eager to allow entrance to university education for people coming from every environment. Unlike English universities, locals study for free. At the nearby Strathclyde University the Widening Access Group is constantly working to improve the possibilities for university entrance. To achieve this, the group maintains and expands existing contacts with social and cultural institutions. This even goes back to the 18th century, when founder John Anderson stood up for allowing the underprivileged university entrance. Hence Strathclyde University was one of the first institutions in Europe allowing women entrance to higher education in Europe.
Return visit in Sankt Augustin
Inspired by my stay in Glasgow, our library in Sankt Augustin was visited by members of the local office in London afterwards. Ellen Christensen from the United States stayed in Sankt Augustin for four days and exchanged views with me and my colleagues.
All in all, I gained a lot of insight during my time in Glasgow and I will present some of my impressions to my collegues in the library in the near future. But I did not only gain new inspiration. I also realized that our library is already very well equipped when it comes to consultation services or internal communication. To me it was also a very inspiring experience to become acquainted with an English speaking working environment. So, if you get the opportunity to explore another country, e.g. with Eramus+, definitely go for it.
Website of Saltire Centre
Original article in German language:
Bibliotheksmitarbeiter mit Erasmus in Schottland
Text & Content Pietras
Artikel vom 15.01.2016