The purpose of this paper is to review the current state of library space assessment, and to investigate how new professionals, represented by a cohort of graduate students taking a course on academic libraries, approached the task of designing and conducting a one-shot space evaluation project.
A review of literature on academic library space was used to introduce the project to student participants and to put the results of their work in context. Seven student groups were required to define their evaluation criteria, conduct quality assessments at individual sites and perform a cross-case analysis to inform recommendations for improvements.
The literature confirmed growing interest in learning space assessment, with a trend toward the use of mixed (quantitative and qualitative) methods, particularly ethnographic techniques using multimedia, and the development of comprehensive toolkits and frameworks. The students used a range of approaches: three groups developed their own evaluation criteria or categories (informed by their reading), and four groups used existing tools (with modifications). All used observations to collect data. Variations across the cohort pointed to different priorities in professional and/or personal values.
The research was based on a small sample of 20 students in one cohort. Replication of the study with future cohorts tasked with the same assignment would strengthen the validity of the findings.
The study offers a novel perspective on the desirable qualities of learning spaces by exploring how graduate librarianship students as both student library users and next-generation professionals specify evaluation criteria and conduct space assessments.
The author gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the MLIS students who participated in the group multi-site space study as part of their Academic Libraries course in 2014-2015, whose ideas and insights have enriched the research reported here; in particular, Christopher Ondrey, Gesina Phillips and Sara Purifoy, who developed the composite hierarchy of assessment criteria as an innovative multi-layered model for applying and contextualizing professional standards.
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