Jim McGarry: Transforming the School Library From an Intimidating Quiet Space to a Collaborative Hub

Jim McGarry

Originally published in the January/February 2020 issue of AC&E/Equity & Access

No educational space offers an opportunity to integrate modern teaching and learning styles more than the school library. Once the home of stacks of books, silent study carrels and shushing librarians, these spaces are now becoming vibrant gathering spaces for discovery and collaboration.

Sure, we still see many books on display, and hopefully this does not totally change, but they are now surrounded by lounge furniture, 3D printers and huddle spaces equipped with interactive technology and white boards.

EdMarket huddle spaces

Instead of the totality of the space being reserved for solitary study, designers are now designating quiet spaces for individual learning while placing a much larger focus on inviting, collaborative spaces for joint projects and mentored learning.

Many libraries were also Media Labs with rows of computers. With so many schools now in a one to one laptop or BYOD environment, these spaces are migrating to become Makerspaces and prototype labs to give students a place to explore ideas and work in the physical environment to demonstrate knowledge.

As collaborative, project-based learning evolves, huddle spaces allow students to work together and explore ideas without interrupting others while they challenge notions and display ideas. Sometimes these spaces can be reserved for the duration of a project so that students can employ design thinking and see their project evolve over time without the disruption of setting up and taking down their ideas with each session.

As comfortable lounge style furniture is replacing unergonomic chairs and desks, students are encouraged to use the space to read and explore ideas. Many libraries are now available to students outside of the standard school day allowing time to take advantage of the knowledge housed within a comfortable inviting environment

These new settings require rethinking technology and electrical power requirements for students to allow wireless connection and full batteries. Much consideration is being given to adding display monitors allowing students to connect and share projects and ideas as well as doing online research.

Also prevalent is the use of flexible tables and seating to allow the environment to be easily reconfigured to accommodate the task at hand from small group activities, to private test taking to one on one mentoring.

These new libraries are now learning centers that help to define the culture of the school. Instead of being intimidating, quiet spaces where students were afraid to ask questions, got in trouble or were bored by the prospect of encyclopedia-like reading, they are transitioning into colorful, comfortable, inviting collaborative hubs of activity and learning.

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The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

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