Although, popular belief is often that libraries are storehouses for materials, libraries were originally designed for scholarly interactions and librarians were seen as advisors not caretakers of the materials (Lankes, 2011 pg. 23).
School Librarians need to be seen through a new lense; they are not keepers of resources but are themselves sources. Sources that collaborate with faculty and students to help them navigate through the wealth of print and online information that is provided. However, interaction and collaboration are not conducive in a silent room. If we want to provide students with the best possible resources and an interactive, collaborative learning environment, we need to rethink the physical space of libraries as well as the role of librarians.
At Providence Day School we have embraced technology and online resources. The library provides students and faculty access to dozens of online databases, print materials, reference and fiction e-books, DVDS, cameras, and kindles. However, until recently we did not have a place where students could use these materials in a collaborative setting. There was a constant struggle in the library between students who needed quiet to study and those that preferred working in pairs or groups. Additionally, much of the students homework was requiring them to use technology and to collaborate in groups to complete projects.
Not being in a postion to expand the physical size of the library we instead looked to areas that were underused. The Library Reference Room contained thousands of print reference materials but do to the layout of the room (there were 12 floor to ceiling pillars) and the lack of technology, the room was rarely used by students or classes.
Having designated a space to use, we set out meeting with designs, interviewing students, and visiting numerous collaborative meeting and learning spaces around the city. The goal was to create a space the students wanted to use, one where they felt comfortable and could make their own. The space needed to be multifunctional and the furniture easily moveable; individual students, small groups, classes, meetings, and special events would be utilizing the space. The entire process took the better part of school year with furniture being phased in throughout the year and construction taking place over the summer.
I’m happy to report that the students LOVE the new space. The Reference Room is now the heart of the library. The use of the room changes with each class period as students alter the space to meet their needs. With all the changes, we felt a new room name was needed – The Learning Commons.