5 Feb 2016

Snapshots of library training spaces in Ireland

In DCU Library we recently discussed whether we wanted to keep our training rooms in their present form. Since the library opened in 2001 we have had two training rooms, largely unchanged:
1. Training room one, on the library's ground floor, which seats up to thirty students in rows of PCs and no natural light. The air conditioning can be difficult to manage, sometimes with the people at the centre freezing and everyone else too warm. 

2. Training room two: more of the same - fifty PCs in tight rows, in a large room again with no natural light. If you're teaching to a half full room, the atmosphere feels dead (students are invariably scattered). If you're teaching to a full room, it's too much to interact with students at their PCs and you need someone else acting as a teaching assistant. Another downside of this space is that it's a bit hidden away under the stairs in the lower ground floor, with access via a narrow, dark corridor:

The two rooms are usually available for use by students outside of opening hours, and some of us have had trouble booting them out before classes. 

On the Library ground floor we also have a large room for the Maths Learning Centre and a smaller room for the Writing Centre. Neither have been used for library training. 

We're aware that the tight rows of desks work against group interaction and even hinder student-tutor interaction. I'm often wonder how they shape what I teach: does the arrangement lead me to focus on low-level task like how to search a database and lead me to focus less on higher level IL skills like how to evaluate sources and brainstorm for keywords? 

For now we're inclined to leave the setup as it is (aside from the fact that we don't have a budget for doing anything). If we moved to an arrangement with, say, laptops and round tables it would lower the room's capacity and managing thirty/fifty laptops would bring new problems. 

With these issues in mind, and being nosey, I decided to put it out to other teaching librarians in Irish HE institutions, asking them what their training rooms looked like and it they were happy with them. Here's what I got back (slightly edited for brevity):

NUI Galway

Kris Meen wrote:
  • The photo above is of one of two training rooms we have at the library. It’s quite a pleasant space, with environmental control, the ability to dim lights, and the ability to let in just the right amount of natural light with the blinds on the window. The room still has a very roomy, airy feel that is conducive to training and study. 
  • Our second training room, in the library’s main floor reading room, has many positive qualities. Somewhat of a drawback is a lack of natural light, due to the positioning of the room. Still, it is outfitted with excellent technology, including a projector that has recently been replaced and an interactive SMART board.

Maynooth University

Rachel Hynes wrote:
  • We have 5 Training Rooms in Maynooth. They are all identical in setup i.e. layout, furniture, user PCs and seats all facing forward, with presenter podium, PC, screen and microphone.
  • Most of these rooms have flexible partition walls which can be taken down thus the rooms can be repurposed into one big training room. 
  • The rooms were designed with the best of furniture and materials. They have great flexibility so that we can have small or bigger training areas. User PCs are sunk down into the desk so the presenter has an uninterrupted view of the class. The desks and seats are comfortable and conform with Health & Safety and accommodate wheelchairs etc.

University College Cork

Ger Prendergast wrote:
  • The desks are configured as in rows. This doesn't suit modern, interactive teaching methods all that well.  For example, if you want a class to work in groups this configuration makes it more difficult. It also makes it difficult to get around to individual students who might be having problems. I would prefer if the classroom had a group seating arrangement.
  • The training room is in the basement. Students find it difficult to locate. No matter how many signs we put up and no matter how many times and ways we tell people how to find it there are always a few latecomers who got lost along the way!
  • The presenter’s PC is located on a desk which is at the same height as an office desk. This means that you are constantly bending over if you need to type search words. 
  • There isn't a microphone so it can be hard on your voice during busy times. 

University College Dublin

James Molloy wrote:
  • A bit of background.  We had a really small T&L room here in the James Joyce Library and it was not really used much (or as a last resort) due to the size, lack of natural light, a noisy air conditioning system and also the lack of flexibility (it had fixed desks and fixed PC's). It was somewhat out of bounds, locked when not in use and over the years used less and less.  We also have a training room located in the Health Sciences Library, this has 35 PC's and is a much larger space.  So this became the primary option for staff if they were to provide training/workshops etc.  However this room also has problems, the desks are fixed, as with the PC's and also the location is out of the way.
  • Late last year money appeared to create a new Library T&L room. Here are some of the issues that we have encountered:
    • Not getting the furniture right: we have half circle desks which were too small and while they work well as an individual desk, when pushed together into a circle they do not always fit to give a level surface.
    • Only getting an hour of battery life from the old laptops (powered from a portable laptop cart).
    • Setting up the room into different configurations can be time consuming and also a lot of physical work.  This physical element of moving furniture can have a greater effect on different staff members (some need assistance).
    • We wanted a room that students could use when it was not in use for training/meetings. However, this has raised a few issues. It can be difficult to get students to vacate the room.
    • Getting the temperature in the room is important, if the room needs to be ventilated, having no windows is an issue. 
    • Leaving a room open for students to use means that any valuable equipment has to be securely locked. 
    • The acoustics are generally good and we have installed sound boards from the ceiling.
    • The glass front gives a very visual message to students using the library so they can see that we are being productive (providing classes etc).
Library Link 1, used by Maths Support 
Library Link 3 used by UCD Library T&L 
 Library Link 3 with a different furniture layout
Health Sciences Library, Information Skills Room

Dublin Institute of Technology

Sarah-Anne Kennedy wrote:

  • We only have one training room now as we gave the second smaller room over to the postgraduates for a dedicated postgrad room.
  • The room functions OK but it is in the traditional set up of linear desks with all students front facing. There are a number of reasons why this linear layout doesn't work as well as we would like. We have restricted access to students on the rows who need individual help. 
  • We cannot see the student PC screens from the top of the room. We have to walk around. If you are demonstrating a database you cannot easily see what errors or steps the students are missing.
  • It's also difficult to see if the students are paying attention and not off surfing or looking up Facebook (this also acts as a distraction to others in the class behind a particular student).
  • We also just have the basic PC/Projector set up along with a white board. More interactive tools would be nice such as a smart board etc. to move the sessions away from the more traditional style of class.


  1. In DBS, we created two new informal formal Library spaces that can be used as collaborative study areas when they are not being used for information skills training. The plan was to create comfortable, attractive areas that students would want to visit. We included comfortable seating alongside PC carousels and desks. The room shown has a Librarian presence for consultation if required. The spaces have proven very popular with students and faculty.


  2. Hi Jane - thanks so much for sharing your space on the blog! I think the importance of flexible spaces is key, and being able to use rooms in different ways like this allows libraries to optimise the use of what is often limited space. Really interesting to see :)