Schools around the globe are re-evaluating the role and worth of school libraries. Some have already modified or eliminated traditional library spaces and services. The move is towards learning environments that are far more versatile, engaging and reflect collaborative inquiry learning.
Of my favourite school memories, some are of a sanctuary, hidden at the end of a transportable building, a place full of silence and books and magazines and mystery – the library. In early primary, I remember furtively reading the Madeline series, getting lost in places and cultures I barely understood. I discovered Alan Garner and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen in upper primary and felt chill and fear and exultation. In lower secondary I immersed myself in Sports Illustrated, soaking up the adventures of my basketball heroes playing for the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. And in my final year I stumbled upon The Catcher in the Rye and was plunged into Salinger’s world view. There are many, many more, of course, and those are associated with other places, but my earliest memories of a library are tinged with the dust and musty odour of a neon-lit space, oddly low light and embracing comfort.
Since then, the schools I’ve worked in have had a variety of libraries, mostly brightly lit and filled with books. Some have also had lending facilities for multi-media (videos, music) and equipment (cameras, projectors). Aberfoyle Park High library also served as a community library, with members of the public strolling through and a wealth of resources tied to the State and National library systems available to everyone. The school libraries I’ve known have been populated with an amazing variety of people. I’ve worked with passionate, energetic teacher-librarians whose capacity to find resources for classes and engage students in chats and activities is nothing short of Herculean. I’ve worked with librarians who simply want to share their passion for reading with everyone.
And then there’s the other side – grumpy librarians who don’t really enjoy the presence of children, cloying silence, no versatility, manicured perfection but no touching, out-of-date books, out-of-date staff with new technologies…
So what is a library in a contemporary school? First, definitely much more than a library – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/library and http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/library Collections are nothing more than repositories, static resources awaiting awakening to a new mind or an old friend. In schools where collaborative, inquiry learning is the key pedagogy, access to libraries is one of many services students need. So the traditional library – a collection of books – will always have a place, even
if/when print books become the vinyl equivalent of the music world, but the spaces in schools reserved for libraries need to adapt, diversify, engage – the caterpillars need to become butterflies.
Instead of a library, schools should design and implement spaces with names like learning commons or r
esource hubs or something that no longer implies a book repository, because that’s what contemporary schools need.
And what would I find, as a student and teacher, in a school with a learning common? I would find:
- Books, because books are seriously cool
- All manner of loanable digital resources
- Online resources accessible through user interfaces
- Spaces for online learning
- Spaces for collaboration and meetings
- Spaces for individual, quiet reading and research
- Spaces for viewing and small performances
- Spaces with tech facilities for creativity
- Comfortable, inviting spaces
But most of all I would find people – all kinds of people:
- Teacher librarians to help curate resources
- Learning mentors to help with subject-specific research and questions
- Learning mentors to help students with learning needs
- ICT helpdesk genii to help with creative and minor technical issues
- Course and personal counsellors to help with general school issues
I would find a vibrant, bright, busy, fascinating, engaging area with flexible spaces and supportive people that would help me enjoy my experience, an area I would feel welcome in, a place I would want to be in, a place where learning is as natural as breathing. I would find a sanctuary when I need one, a fun place when I need one, a relaxing place when I need one, and an intellectually engaging place when I need one. How good would that be in any school?
All over the world, people are exploring what new libraries can look like. Many exist. Some are concepts. The future for what once were book repositories is exciting!