Sheffield University

Information Commons, Sheffield University, 25th June 2009

I met Alexandra Hunt, IC Manager along with Ian Knowles, from the AV/IT department.

Information Commons was built two years ago and was conceived as an alternative to the typical university library.

Costing £23M to build it is spread over seven floors in a purpose built block just to the west of the city centre Alex described how the building operates and copes with the huge numbers of students that use the space.

It houses 500 PC’s but there are over 1,300 spaces for students to work. during term its open 24/7 with staff available 12 hours per day. Instead of security staff, IC employs concierges who also provide security overnight and at weekends.

There is a card entry system which gives way to digital signage screens that give students up to date information, including the number of  PCs available and on what floor.

On the ground floor there is a cafe, with a relaxation of the policy of eating and drinking on all floors, although hot food is not permitted anywhere else.

I asked Alex the same question as at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), how well do the students treat the facilities?
There does seem to be more of a need to ‘police’ the facilities than at SHU.

What was interesting was that the university attracts a slightly different demographic. Whereas SHU used to be a polytechnic, with students from diverse backgrounds, cultures and more mature self funded students.
Sheffield University has more grammar school educated students, some of who come from more privileged homes and are perhaps not as mature or responsible.

So there were cases of a small number of students not treating the space with much respect, leaving rubbish, books and bags on the floor.

The floors each had a different colour scheme, denoted by the colour of the furniture, screens, pictures and signage.

There was interesting lighting, with diffused uplighting in the study areas.

Much use was made of daylight.

The lighting was very interesting, large spotlights angled up to the ceiling were reflected back down by large mirrors with inset fresnel lenses.

The acoustics in such large open areas can be problematic, but here it is helped by large white sound baffles on walls and ceilings.

The top two floors had large rooms dedicated to quiet and silent study. These study spaces were large, sometime broken up with colored screens.

On each lower floor, there are large study spaces and more comfortable seating, along with shared photocopiers and printers in ‘Business’ areas.  Books were swiped in and out by the students themselves in the same space.

There are a number of teaching rooms, which are also designed to be used as open access IT spaces.

There are tables laid out for groups but with chairs on castors so as to allow them to face the front lectern for presentations.

The AV is very clever, using AMX control system, the presenters display can be sent to each individual PC screen as well as the large data projector. Conversely, each workstation has an output back to the main display.

Again, it has a large painted feature wall to provide that continuity of colour.

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