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By Yap Lay Sheng
In recent years, the LSE library has witnessed a series of developments to redefine its role in the community. One such notable investment is the recently set up LSE LIFE. Announced as part of a slew of ambitious reforms aimed at arresting the decline in student satisfaction rates, the centre was initialled endowed with more than £5 million as “an academic, personal development centre” targeted at enhancing skills of the student body.
Two months after its unveiling at the LSE library, advisors at LSE LIFE admit that response has been overwhelming. A typical schedule for the advisors, who are tasked to aid students in their everyday school life, begins in the morning with pre-booked student appointments and continues into the late afternoon with drop-in sessions for students-in-need. The turnstile at the entrance of LSE LIFE records a staggering 50,000 students who have visited the place since its inception.
In a climate where there is a growing crisis of confidence towards functions played by libraries, these once venerable institutions have faced the need to increase innovation to keep up with the changing times. The digitization of knowledge, proliferation of mass cultural venues and the abundance of other information archives have meant that the library no longer carries its symbolic role as the centre of society. The tide of budget cuts and staff retrenchments that threaten libraries all across the world has meant that its role is being reduced to mere storage for an outmoded technology, occasionally referenced by the academic community.
This is why LSE LIFE is such an important project. Beyond its grandiloquent promises—which veers on bureaucratic-speak—to develop student skills, it plays a more fundamental role in building a sense of community in LSE. The traditional library has not always played the passive role of guiding its audience to books; it also provides a venue for those interested in conversing with each other, attending public lectures and plugging into a community of learners. It is fostering a community that has been the historic mission of the library.
According to Jack Winterton, a student advisor of LSE LIFE, “the centre promises a space for students not because there is a deficit, but for advancement.” He also notes that the centre enables a chance to “talk to peers rather than intimidating professors”. The centre has been active in such endeavours in order to promote a space for advancement opportunities and autonomous student activities. Just last month, it hosted LSE’s inaugural undergraduate research conference. Since its opening, it has organized a range of workshops to promote language skills, writing abilities and career development workshops eagerly attended by LSE Students. It looks set to expand into other programmes, including setting up a space for students interested in sharing their knowledge with their peers.
Despite the rosy images painted, LSE LIFE has not been immune to criticism. Dissatisfaction towards the reduction in study spaces available has been the most common gripe. A second year geography student at the LSE said, “the centre resembles more a suicide hotline rather than a place for advancement.” At the heart of these complaints is the image problem of LSE LIFE. When it was first set up, its purpose seemed fuzzy and unclear to many students. Shoddily scribbled whiteboards with information on the day’s programme greeting its visitors has certainly not aided the image problem. However, the LSE LIFE team has been trying hard to remedy these problems. As the student advisor interviewed for this article admits, LSE LIFE is an experiment that has not been undertaken by any other school libraries, and it is uncharted waters that the library is venturing into.
Nevertheless, exciting developments await the LSE Library and LSE LIFE. As the school continues into the Lent Term, a hive of activities, workshops and new innovations has been lined up. The LSE Library continues to be the social centre of LSE.