Thank architects and students for Rolex Learning Center look (update)

GenevaLunch photo album of the Rolex Learning Center 52 images by Mr Kio and Peter Brodbeck (best viewed as a stream)

Rolex Learning Center reflects shift to group and project learning, digital sources

EPFL by mr.KIO-18

EPFL (photo ©2010 Mr Kio)

Update 30 March 21:45  Lausanne, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – The bad old days of sitting in fusty dark and silent libraries pouring over books are definitely a thing of the past at EPFL‘s new Rolex Learning Center (RLC). The building itself is airy and light, with a multitude of open spaces where students gather in small groups or stretch out on bright beanbag chairs.

The architects of this extraordinary building were named   the winners of the annual, highly coveted international architectural Pritzker Prize Monday 29 March for the body of their work. Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, partners in the Japanese architecture firm Sanaa, created the space for the RLC in response to changes that have come from students themselves, says the university.

EPFL by mr.KIO-10

EPFL (photo ©2010 Mr Kio)

EPFL by mr.KIO-21

EPFL (photo ©2010 Mr Kio)

“Our students are using our libraries more and more frequently, but less for the purpose of borrowing books and more to work, either individually or in groups,” the RLC blog before the library opened in February. “The Bologna reform and a general trend in education towards learning through projects and group work are having an impact on students today. They are looking for a mix: a place where they can either sit for several hours and work or where they can find information on paper and electronically, and where they can choose to work in silence or interact with their fellow students.”

Rolex Learning Centre-EPFL-5

EPFL (photo ©2010 Peter Brodbeck)

Rolex Learning Centre-EPFL-56

EPFL (photo ©2010 Peter Brodbeck)

The centre is far more than a library: it combines work stations and access to documents with shops open to the public, digital scanners, copying machines, cultural and scientific events and activities, and exhibits that will grow in number and importance, the university says.

Books are alive and well, all 11km of them

But the library remains at the heart of the new centre. It gives the university, for the first time, a centralized system for collections. Between December 2009 and February 2010 some 11 kilometres of books were moved into the centre, from 10 specialized libraries: mathematics, chemistry and criminal sciences, architecture, physics, information and communication, materials sciences, management and the Craft library. For all its digital life, the library continues to be an important books centre, library staff told the community in an EPFL blog, “because people still like paper, but also because many documents do not yet exist in digital form. We are obliged to offer our users a hybrid solution that mixes electronic and physical documents.”

The separate specialized libraries were combined for several reasons. “The professional staff is there not only to guide library users in order to help them find what they are looking for, but to train people how best to search for information related to their work and how to find virtually any document published anywhere in the world. Some of our libraries have until now been limited in their ability to offer services on a continual basis, due to a shortage of staff and funding. By creating a single team of professionals we are able to provide a higher level of service, for longer hours.”

More than a student centre – it’s a public library, too

Key figures for the Rolex Learning Center library:

  • 10,000 Library users registered at the end of 2009
  • 500,000 visits a year expected
  • 60,000 documents expected to be loaned each year
  • 2 million consultations of the web site, in 2008
  • 860 work stations
  • 6,022 hours of open time a year
  • 3,120 hours of service a year, to the public
  • 500,000 paper documents, available free of charge
  • 11,000 electronic journal titles
  • 42 staff members, professional librarians and documentalists (equal to 30 fulltime posts)

The library collections, work stations and automatic loans system are open to students 07:30-24:00, seven days a week, a far more flexible service than in the past. It’s been facilitated by a major change in the way members of the university community may now borrow books and other materials.

More and more libraries are moving to RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) strips in their collections, integrating them into books’ adhesive strips, for example, to allow automatic loans. The chips are widely used in society and are found on many everyday objects. In a library they deter theft while allowing library users to check out their own books. EPFL says they will eventually help the library manage inventory and correctly shelve documents. “For readers, the main advantage is the automatic loan system that makes it possible to check out several documents at the same time. This functionality cuts the time spent at the check-out desk during busy periods.”

Wifi and cable access to the Internet enable library users to view online videos on their own computers at the RLC, a recognition that audiovisual and multimedia are growing in importance for research and scientific work. The library also offers computers with DVD readers and earphones. The Rolex forum will show films and multimedia presentations.

EPFL is one of Switzerland’s two federal polytechnic institutes, with ETHZ in Zurich. The Rolex Learning Center  has relied on some government funding and is a public library. It is open to the public and entry is free for everyone. Documents can be consulted freely. Residents of Switzerland can register at no cost (note: in advance of the first loan) to borrow books. And the public will be able to borrow DVDs. Foreign exchange students who are here for only a short time may also register, but with some restrictions.

The library is open to the public 08:00-20:00, Monday to Friday.


  1. Beanbags just add so much character to places that are “supposed” to be quiet… places like libraries and offices. They just make you smile when you walk in!

  2. Brian says:

    I think that the Rolex Learning Center is a great resourses center,
    I would love for my children to go to somewhere that is higly equipted at this learning centre.

    Antique Clocks

  3. What a wonderful opportunity and an amazing building. I very much enjoyed reading this post. 11km of books!