Libraries aren’t what they used to be – just ask Middle School teacher-librarian Ms. Sarah Craig.
“Well, in classic libraries there was no talking, no eating and all departments worked in silos where there wasn’t a lot of cross-curricular collaboration. And now with so much technology use, and 21st century learners and knowing that collaboration is a critical aspect of education, everything about libraries is different,” she says.
So for 21st century learners – students and teachers – to have to use a library that hasn’t really physically changed in a couple of decades means they weren’t able to use the space to its full potential. But not anymore.
“Over the summer we ripped out the library office and turned the room into a collaborative space for the kids. We tripled the amount of seating, made way for more comfy nooks for reading or chatting or working together, we redid the carpet, repainted everything, and brought in all new furniture,” Sarah says excitedly. “The space looks so much bigger, and it looks clean and crisp and inviting, which is what I wanted them to have the space to be.”
One of the biggest changes in libraries since the Internet has become a really up-to-date and current education tool, is the reduction of shelf space dedicated to non-fiction books. Year after year, the amount of non-fiction titles in the Middle School library dwindles, making way for more fiction books. But as those fact-based titles dwindle, more laptops or tablets are brought in for students to use.
And because of that, Sarah says a lot of her job as a librarian has changed, too. She now dedicates a significant amount of her time working with students and teachers providing them with safe and accurate online resources for research projects or in-class units, and she teaches kids how to find good academic information on the Internet. That, she says, is why this library redesign was so crucial.
“The days when a library was just shelves and shelves of books are gone. It’s more important for us to design the space around student needs today, than having non-fiction books sitting on the shelves not being touched because they’re becoming out-of-date,” she says.
The Middle School library still is filled with books. A rapidly growing paper-based fiction section that helps instill a love of reading continues to attract students to the library. But the new design provides so much more for students than the previous incarnation ever could.
“Everything moves. The kids can rearrange things in whatever formation they need. Teachers can come in and change the classroom up any time for any kind of lesson, whether it be a hands-on lab or a lecture-style class or even talking to other classrooms internationally via Skype, this is a room that can truly be any purpose that is needed,” Sarah says. “I want the kids and the teachers to see the potential of what we can do in this space. We have a whole wall that’s a whiteboard, so the kids can come in and jot down ideas right on the wall for doing group work. Just below it is a Makerspace table, where they can work on their own personal projects. And we have smaller, portable whiteboards everywhere, so they can quiz each other, or brainstorm on those, or share their ideas with someone sitting across the room. It’s all about working together, bringing different ideas together and creating something amazing.”
Sarah even promoted a collaborative process in the planning for the redesigned library. She had students and staff help in testing out and selecting furniture, colours and different aspects of the new design.
“I want students to walk in here and know that their opinions were valued. And in this space, they’ll see their opinions are valued – that they have things to teach other people. This space is theirs, and there is an area for every type of learner,” she says.
As well as being the school library, the flexible space is booked in the timetable to be used as a music room, math class and communications class.
“It’s been an amazing opportunity to create a space like this for the students. I am so excited for the kids to come in and for the teachers to come in and see it and start to use it. I just want to see what they’re going to do with it,” Sarah says. “I want this to be the living room of the school, where we meet, communicate and learn from each other; comfortable, warm and inviting. It is that now.”