What is in this article?:
- The School Library Space is Changing
- Freedom to Teach and Space to Learn
The library is not just a place for books anymore.
Whether we like it or not, libraries are changing. Although they still provide access to information, they also are tasked with teaching new users how to take advantage of available resources. They are expanding their role as community-wide help centers while continuing to be a place for reflection, sharing and learning.
Shelves filled with rows upon rows of books no longer are the emblem of the library, whose role is much more proactive, exposing the public to a range of media as well as enabling live access to lectures and community meetings. Public libraries now have community spaces, galleries, resource centers and large, comfortable reading areas.
Individual Focus, Worldly Access
In academic environments, libraries are changing as well. This shift is a direct result of two academic realities: the slow demise of the traditionally published book as the primary source of information; and the increasing demand for more collaborative, social environments for academic study and production.
The results of those two trajectories are stunning and amazingly uniform. Education campuses throughout the nation have been restructuring their libraries to become, or at the very least include, the "Learning Commons." The Learning Commons most easily is identified by communal study spaces that support collaborative learning and easy access to food services. But in reality, the Learning Commons also provides students with other less obvious, but equally critical, resources.
These resources include centralized access to specialists who can explain resource research and retrieval in a technologically complex world; complete integration of technology throughout the space, enabling students to work together for research and production; and a range of meeting spaces for small- and large-group activities and classes.
Until recently, elementary schools have been immune to these kinds of changes, but its design is starting to change. With a few variations, the library still is centrally situated within the school, filled with bookshelves, a few lounge chairs at the perimeter, and perhaps joined by a dedicated area for computer use with enough hard seating to enable directed library instruction for a class. This layout continues to be used because books remain the medium of choice for most elementary school educators and because direct supervision of students by a teacher is considered a primary design imperative.
There are, however, some K-12 schools moving away from that standard. Cushing Academy, the nation’s oldest co-ed boarding school, hopes to become a model for 21st-century learning by eliminating its entire print collection. The 144-year old school, situated in Ashburnham, Mass., is giving away or discarding its 20,000 volumes and providing 18 digital readers, enhanced electronic databases, flatscreen TVs and laptop-equipped study cubicles.
Other designs incorporate individual reading areas, each within its own, small-group learning space. Common areas adjacent to the small-group learning areas encourage collaborative and self-directed exploration.