Redesigning your school library requires rethinking how you want the space to function—and what new roles you would like it to serve.

As technology becomes an increasingly important part of education, and as teaching and learning continue to evolve, how will these shifts affect the use of your library space?

Through the website DiscoverDesign.org, the Chicago Architecture Foundation offers a series of design challenges for students. One of the these challenges is to redesign the school library space.

Although this challenge is intended for students, the advice it contains applies equally well to K-12 leaders.

According to DiscoverDesign, here are three key steps to follow in the redesign process.

Gather Information.

You can’t propose a new solution until you have fully assessed your needs.

To do this effectively, you should involve all stakeholders in the process, so you are getting input from multiple perspectives.

Here are some action steps to guide you.

  • Articulate an overarching mission or purpose for your school library. If its purpose used to be proving access to information, what is its purpose today? This could be helping students make sense of the information around them, making sure they know how to find the information they need, or preparing them to be effective digital citizens, to give a few examples.
  • List all the needs you would like your school library to serve. Include every function you can think of that would advance the mission or purpose you have just articulated. Don’t be afraid to be creative or expansive; you’ll have a chance to whittle this list down later. For now, let your only limit be your imagination.
  • List all of the features you like about your existing library setup. Then, consider all the ways your current library is not very well designed or doesn’t meet the needs you outlined in the previous step.
  • Survey or interview students, teachers, and library staff to get their feedback on these questions. What new features or functions would they like to see in their school library? What changes would they make to the current space if they had the chance?
  • Measure the dimensions of your current library. Take photos of the existing space. Consider how many students it should be able to accommodate during a given class period, as well as how many books and additional resources you will need to make space for.
  • Research how other schools have redesigned their library spaces. This guidebook is a good start, but you can also search online and visit neighboring school districts to get additional ideas.

Brainstorm Ideas

Once you have gathered this information, the next step is to think about the implications of your findings. Then, you can begin sketching out some rough ideas for how to approach the space. Here are some suggestions to guide you.

  • Form a design committee that includes students, teachers, library staff, and parents. This will ensure that all stakeholder groups are represented in the design process.
  • Prioritize your needs and goals. Consider which uses of the space are most important to you. Make separate lists for the functions that are non-negotiable, those you’d like to accommodate if you can fit them into your budget, and those you can live without.
  • Think about the design elements that will enable you to meet the goals you’ve deemed most important. For instance, if one of your goals is to make the library an inviting place where students will want to gather, might a café make sense as part of the design? If a goal is to foster creativity and technology skills, should you consider adding a maker space?
  • Identify the design elements you like from libraries in other schools or districts, and consider how you can incorporate those ideas into your own project.
  • Sketch out a rough floor plan of your redesigned library space. Start thinking about where the various design elements you’d like to include might fit.

Develop a solution.

Once you have some rough ideas in mind, you can begin establishing a final plan. At this stage, it might make sense to bring in an architect to help you with your planning. Here is some other advice as well.

  • As you’re designing the space, consider what types of furniture would be most appropriate, based on how you envision the space will be used. Also, consider what kinds of media you will need, such as large screen monitors or interactive whiteboards, “huddle stations” to support collaboration, or video conferencing equipment.
  • Think about the role that lighting plays in the space, and how you can bring more natural lighting to bear.
  • As you are drafting your plans, consider what kind of budget you have and how this might impact the final design.
  • Run your initial ideas by students and staff for their approval. Ask for their input, and incorporate this feedback into the final design process.

When you are designing a maker space, you’ll want to make sure the space promotes creativity and collaboration. You can encourage both of those traits through the design of the space itself. Here are some ideas to guide you.

  • Ask students what they want. Giving students a voice in the design of the space can inspire their ingenuity.
  • Build flexibility into the design of the space. Use furniture that can be arranged easily in many different configurations to promote different kinds of student groupings and activities.
  • Take inspiration from the “stations” approach to classroom design that is common in elementary schools. Consider creating separate areas for different kinds of activities, and equip each area as appropriate.
  • Include open, informal spaces for students to gather together, brainstorm and bounce ideas off one other. Soft seating options can make the space comfortable and inviting for students to congregate.

Let Paragon Furniture help you design the space itself using our MAKER FARM™ Series Tables and Boards. Contact us today at 800.451.8546.

Launching a successful maker space program requires training teachers to use the space effectively with their students. Teachers must learn not only how to design high-quality projects, but also how to transition into a new role they might not feel comfortable with.

Instead of passing along knowledge to students as the “sage on the stage,” teachers must step aside and let students work through challenges and make discoveries for themselves.

Teachers need to shift their role away from being providers of content and toward becoming “designers of learning experiences,” says Mindy Faber, co-director of the Convergence Design Lab project in Chicago. “Learning how to set up structures, design environments, use space effectively, and curate technologies and resources strategically—that is the future role of the teacher.”

This shift in mindset from leading a teacher-centric to a student-centric learning environment can be difficult. It’s a fundamentally different way of approaching instruction, Faber says—and many teachers don’t know how to teach this way. “It’s not part of their pre-service education,” she notes.

Here’s some advice for helping teachers make this shift.

  • Lead with the “why.” School leaders should explain not just how teaching should be different in a maker space, but why. When students take ownership of the creative process, learning becomes much more rich and meaningful to them—and when teachers understand these benefits, they are more likely to embrace this change.
  • Create a culture of innovation. School leaders must create a culture that encourages risk-taking among staff. This involves making sure that teachers know it’s OK to make mistakes, and rewarding teachers for trying something new or different.
  • Observe other maker spaces in action. Have teachers visit other schools, watch exemplary maker space teaching, ask questions, and learn from others’ successes.
  • Pair teachers with maker space mentors. Have teachers co-teach in the maker space with other teachers who have more experience in this kind of environment, so they can learn from a mentor until they are ready to try it for themselves.
  • Let teachers become the students. Hold training workshops in which teachers have an opportunity to explore and create in the maker space for themselves. As teachers discover the possibilities that exist in the space, they can begin to think about how to apply these possibilities to student projects.