What do you remember about your elementary or high school library? If you’re anything like me, you remember dull colors, cubicles, and lots of shelves. The seating wasn’t all that comfortable. Chatting was discouraged. Not the most welcoming place.
Today the library/learning resource center/media center—call it what you will—is undergoing a metamorphosis. The library has emerged as a pivotal space with the potential to encourage community participation, support group learning, and tout exciting curricular undertakings.
At the Oak Ridge Elementary School media center, most shelves are confined to the walls, creating more room for group activities. Bright colors, natural light, and mobile furniture make the space not just a library, but a meeting place for staff and community.
The Place to Be
Major strides in technology and collaborative learning have propelled a movement toward libraries that are less about shelves and cubicles and more about flexibility, openness, and even invention.
Particularly influential is one-to-one computing (i.e., a device for every student). If you can get books on devices, why not get rid of some shelves and create a presentation lab? Here the teacher uses different media to present to ten to fifteen students, or students give their own presentations.
Maybe the school is launching exciting new curricular offerings. Wouldn’t the library, with its typically central location, be an ideal place to showcase these programs?
What if students meandering the library see, instead of rows and rows of books, a large window that displays a “makers’ space” that displays 3D printing and model making? Or what about a space rich with technologies for music and video editing?
If it’s flexible enough, the library can also function as a community meeting space. The new media center at Oak Ridge Elementary School (Palos Hills, IL), for instance, transforms from a group research hub to a venue for special events.
You Don’t Have to Build New to Feel New
A school doesn’t have to create a major addition to achieve an impressive library. Older high schools can aspire to Governor State University’s renewed library.
The library hadn’t had a major renovation for over 25 years. The seating was uncomfortable, the lighting was poor, and there were no group study rooms. It desperately needed a makeover.
Renovations transformed dark, dull spaces into vibrant and collaborative learning settings to which Governors State University students are flocking.
A complete face-lift created breakout conference spaces and study nooks equipped with technology that enables students to practice their presentations. New student service points improved peer-to-peer interaction. Inviting spaces and open views have reduced “library anxiety” among students.
The overall feel of the library has shifted dramatically. With its bright colors and contemporary furnishings, it’s closer to an internet café or coffee house than to a traditional library.
Untuck the Library
The memories we have and the movies we watch continue to pigeonhole the library as a hideaway filled with reclusive students.
Also, the librarian is no longer someone who goes around shushing kids, but instead a guide to help students access what they need in an age of information overload.
I hope that you’ll join me in “untucking” the library from its traditional role. Yes, the library should still be a place where students can go to study quietly, but it should also be a place of shared ideas and experimentation.
When we walk into a library today, we should see a space that is bright, flexible, and welcoming. Then we will see the most rewarding sight: fulfilled staff and engaged students.