Thursday, September 27, 2007

Giles Gilbert Scott, Cambridge University Library and the need for tea and biscuits!

Yesterday I went to see the Cambridge University Library for the first time. Well close up for the first time anyway, as you can see "this magnificent erection" (words attributed to Neville Chamberlain upon the opening of the library) from pretty much all over Cambridge. In fact you can see it from the M11!

The reason I went to the library was to see the latest exhibition there called, Through the Whole Island, Excursions in Great Britain. The (rather small) exhibition room was showing some very interesting pieces of writing and etchings of people's journey's around the British Isles. Of particular interest, I thought, was a handwritten piece from Charles Darwin. Well worth a visit.

The library building was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott. Having known this I was interested and intrigued to see this building close up as I knew of Scott from his impressive Liverpool Cathedral and more mundanely the telephone box which probably made his name famous in quiz nights throughout the UK!

What I wasn't prepared for though was that the building would take my breath away (or at least evoke an audible WOW!). This strong and sturdy temple of learning reaches up and touches the clouds! The windows allowing the exterior viewer to see the books almost saying: "I have a serious, didactic role and am protector of knowledge!". Wonderful also were the details such as the hand rails leading up the well proportioned stair way to the main revolving door.

It seemed like a style on it's own: it has been said that Scott's work fused the classical with the modern creating this new functional style. It was certainly impressive! The only thing it needed really was a tea lady offering biscuits and tea! I was gasping after the cycle over there in the wind!

I do feel obliged to comment on rather a sad note though: that in researching the library on the internet it seems that The University of Cambridge's Brand Manager failed in their task to portray some of these wonderful qualities to the website! A bloody awful mess of a website greeted me which you can see here:

This does not say keeper of knowledge, or didactic mentor nor indeed "this magnificent erection". Sadly it looked like somebody had put a lot of different elements into a bag, shook it about a bit and thrown them onto the screen. And as I dig around the general Cambridge University site I realise that the mess wasn't confined to the library!

Wikipedia boasts: "The University of Cambridge (often Cambridge University), located in Cambridge, England, is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and has a reputation as one of the world's most prestigious universities." See how the University main website utterly fails to convey this: Staggering. Really staggering that this amazing University has for an internet presence what looks like a site that has been knocked together by a programmer over the weekend!

There are no reinforcements of brand values either in textures, colours, or layout of the pages. The navigation is basic. It seems fairly usable and it's Google ranking is certainly sky high (9/10) but it seems no thought has gone into portraying the University values. Easy to criticise isn't it? Well, here is an example (in Cambridge) of how it could have been done better: The Fitzwilliam Museum. No comment, just compare and contrast...

Then again, maybe they want to attract geeky programmers who work over the weekend.....