The old adage about waiting for ages and then three coming along at once happened for me one week in November when I visited the University libraries at Leicester http://www.le.ac.uk/li/about/building/index.html, Bournemouth http://www.bournemouth.ac.uk/library/building/tsmc.html, and Southampton http://www.designinglibraries.org.uk/view/index.php?id=47ea70d5c6706. The first was the venue for a Heads of Customer Service meeting, the others were combined as part of the SCONUL Buildings Visit 2008.
The David Wilson Library at the University of Leicester opened in April 2008 and cost £32 million. 80% of the stock is issued and returned through self-service (all three libraries visited were doing away with their issue desks or had already done so). It has a Graduate School Reading Room and 13 group study rooms. Open until midnight, it will offer 24/7 opening in the summer pre-exam period. Its aim was for a modern but classic design, and it sees itself as a research library which also meets student needs.
The Sir Michael Cobham Library at Bournemouth University was the SCONUL Library Design Award winner in 2007. Opened in 2003, it cost £5.3 million. Externally its most striking feature is its shape, which is octagonal, with a fibre optic sculpture at its pinnacle which is floodlit at night. Internally the octagonal shelving space is optimised by fanning out the shelves with the shortest in the middle and the longest by the external walls, which is unusual but works well. One of the features for which the Library won the SCONUL award was for the adaptability of the study and social spaces available.
The most recent extension to the Hartley Library at the University of Southampton was completed in 2007. The total cost was nearly £13 million. One of the most obvious features is as you enter, with the configuration of the entrance and reception areas to provide a cafe and informal learning space and to facilitate longer opening hours. The project also included the creation of a new exhibition area and display space. Whilst space for research is important, there is no area specifically set aside for postgraduates or staff, this in a Russell Group university. It was interesting to compare and contrast Bournemouth and Southampton since their Universities and library buildings were quite different and yet they had many things in common, such as their aim to provide a range of study spaces, and to improve access and flexibility.