I’ve recently been challenged in my thinking about the role of libraries in schools with open learning spaces. I’d be interested to hear how schools are innovating and approaching this.
Take a look at a school with hubs or studios accommodating several teachers, maybe 80 children, with access within the space (and of course online) to resources for reading, science, maths, art, social sciences and so on, and the question becomes, ‘why do students have to walk to another building in order to go to the library?’ Shouldn’t the physical collection of books be diffused across the school and put into the hubs? The traditional library space emerges somewhat incongruent.
Philosophically speaking the diffusing of the collection fits nicely with one of the advantages of flexible learning environments. It’s about just in time access to resources, building student’s capacity to make informed choices about where to learn, and what and whom they’ll need to learn with, and enabling learners to able to become increasingly more independent. It’s crucial that children can see resources around them to help in their lines of inquiry, or to trigger new directions in thinking. Having resources tucked away in another part of school where there is the potential for us as teachers to ‘gatekeep’ them is counterproductive. But I know there are some challenges.
Maybe the challenges though are centred on the way one thinks about a library. Certainly the more fixed mindset part of me starts thinking a bit too traditionally and is concerned with the nitty-gritty of a library space - how do you manage the issuing of books, the returning and the end of year audits when the books are in more than one place? How too do you efficiently spread a library collection across learning spaces designed for particular age groups, whilst still allowing children to explore material for both older and younger learners? Perhaps more importantly, where does the librarian go and how does their role change? This is a possibly the more important question.
I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with Lisa and Peter, a coupe of the NZ National Library team, during the recent Ignition2012 unconference. The discussion centred on two aspects of the library- that of a ‘service’ rather than a physical space and also on being that treasured space where children learn to love books.
Think less about a book room and more about an information resource was the first point. If a library is simply a place for books then it has a very short timeline ahead of it indeed. Think more about the library as a service, having a teacher-librarian who can act as a filter, a connection maker, an information expert for learners. Someone who can support inquiry learning through the development of information literacy competencies in addition to the development of children as readers.
In this case if this is the model for the librarian, then ‘where’ the library is becomes less important. How the teacher-librarian can add value to the learning that goes on in the hubs is. It’s about a partnership in learning- more of a Learning Commons approach, where children are encouraged to ‘become critical consumers of information’ (OSLA, 2010, p. 3). It’s a question I know Amesbury School in Wellington are addressing with the intentional appointment of a teacher librarian to work within their new learning hubs.
The second point though is an important one, and it’s about the place of a library as one of helping to engender a love of books and of reading. It’s often a place of sanctuary for many children, particularly those who don’t always enjoy being outside during the breaktimes. And a wander through our library space over a few lunchtimes this week revealed just that.
Children talked about why they liked the library - ‘It’s a friendly space, a thinking place’ one commented, ‘I just like coming here to read. It’s quiet and I find books I’ve never even seen before’. ‘It’s a place to think’, said another. ‘I don’t have many books at home and we don’t buy them, so this is a great place to discover new ones’. They talked about sharing book ideas with each other, or of the accidental adventure of stumbling upon new things to read. Others were sat around on beanbags, not reading but discussing their latest challenges with Blender, a new design tool they’d discovered, sharing tips and their new learning.
And it’s the same sort of feeling at my local library too. I spent an hour there this morning as part of my current fascination with the emerging genre of graphic novels and how they can engage reluctant readers. The place was busy, with children, teens and adults all absorbed, whether online or offline, with reading and discussion. It’s an important local facility and it’s not a place I’d want to loose in a hurry.
In the end for schools it’s probably a case of ‘and, and’ with a combination approach to the library and the service it offers students that is going to emerge as the preferred model. There is still I believe a place for schools to create a sanctuary of reading, that quiet place the children referred to fondly but that doesn’t necessarily require all of the collection to be housed in that one space. Perhaps it’s more of a literary watering hole that’s needed, a comfortable, invitational information grazing space, offering a taste of available materials.
In that case perhaps much of the collection can be spread around the school, where it’s available to learners just in time for what they need, when they need it. And with it the teacher-librarian, a floating information expert- on hand to work with children and teachers alike, to maximise the available offline and online resource.
As new types of learning environment develop in schools consideration does need to be given to models of library space. Not only the physical entity but also the service they provide. It’s an exciting area, and one ripe for innovation.
Ontario School Library Association. (2010). Together for Learning: School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons. Ontario: Ontario School Library Association. Relieved from http://www.accessola.com/data/6/rec_docs/677_OLATogetherforLearning.pdf