16 Sept 2015

“The walk to the library is the most painful thing ever”

A while back I searched for tweets about DCU Library, where I work. A recurring theme was students complaining about the horrors of walking to the library:

I dismissed this as whinging but something I read later reminded me of this. The Dutch urban planner Jan Gehl wrote this about monotonous walks:

The “tiring length perspective” describes the situation in which the pedestrian can see the whole route at a glance before even starting out. The road is straight and seemingly endless, with no promise of interesting experiences along the way. The prospect is tiring before the walk is even begun.

If you look at the walk from the nominal centre of campus to the Library, you’ll see that it fits that description. It's not that long: 350m, taking about three minutes:

But it feels very long because of the unvaried block of buildings on the left. You can walk for a minute and your view barely changes:

The book Planning Academic and Research Library Buildings suggests that a library is best located near classrooms for HSS students, who generally use the building more than other disciplines. But for better or worse, DCU Library is on the edge of the Glasnevin campus: its nearest neighbours are the School of Biotechnology, five-a-side pitches and the commercialisation centre. And anyway, central locations can bring problems like space limitations, restricting future options to expand. 

A visit from Rachel Van Riel of the library design consultancy Opening the Book  made us aware that our building had a quite formal character. It was somewhere students only went with a specific purpose: go there, borrow a book or study, and leave. It wasn't a very inviting place to linger and the location made it a place you wouldn't just casually drop into. From the tweeting students POV, it feels like work to get to a place to just do work. Academics very rarely visit the Library and I don't think this is just because they only use our online resources. 

While there are plans for a major redevelopment of the Glasnevin campus, including improving its permeabilitythis will take some time, and I doubt that moving the Library will be an option. Instead, in the last year the Library has made a number of changes to the building to give our users more reasons to visit (not exclusively motivated by the tweets!):

We refurbished part of the ground floor into a more relaxed, informal space:

Also on the ground floor we invited the university's Maths Learning Centre and the Writing Centre to set up camp:

And we acquired parts of AIB's art collection on loan:

And the Library Café was refurbished:

So while it's not in a central location, hopefully now the Library is more at the centre of campus life. The number of tweets complaining about the walk has actually gone down - I'm happy to accept this correlation as proof of our success ;)


  1. Maybe you could put some artwork along the walkway? Designed by the students themselves and then rotated on a regular basis?

    1. Good idea, Caroline! Another suggestion from the students way back was a travelator. Or maybe some way of gamifying the walk with sensors - something like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SByymar3bds