In this week’s transforming K-12 learning spaces vlog, Mark Hubbard shares some tips on redesigning your school library.

As the purpose and function of school libraries evolves, transforming the physical space to accomodate these changes becomes imperative.

With some thoughtful planning and a touch of creativity, you can design vibrant, 21st century library spaces that serve as a central hub for digital teaching, learning and research in your school.

Let us know what you thought about this post in the comments section below and please share new topic ideas.

Next week’s topic is about Maker Spaces. We’ll discuss how to create a maker space in your school.

Thank you for joining this week, and thank you for supporting Paragon Furniture.

In today’s information-rich society, with the Internet at our fingertips, students and teachers no longer need a library for access to information. But that doesn’t mean school libraries have become irrelevant.

On the contrary, it can be argued that school libraries are more important today than ever.

They serve as a focal point for helping students and teachers navigate the flood of information available online and distinguish fact from fiction.

In many school libraries, teachers and media specialists are teaming up to teach classes together, with the media specialist focusing on the technology and information literacy skills that students need to become effective citizens in the Digital Age.

As learning becomes more participatory, requiring a co-construction of knowledge from many sources, school libraries are transforming from archives of information into “learning commons,” where students come to learn key 21st-century skills and construct new knowledge together.

This new model is changing the design of school library spaces. Printed books are still important, but library spaces are no longer consumed by rows of shelving.

For instance, there are more open spaces and common areas that allow students and teachers to get together for creating, sharing, and collaborating.

As school libraries evolve to meet the changing needs of staff and students, K-12 leaders are charged with designing modern library spaces that can support these emerging needs.

As you seek to transform your own school libraries into dynamic 21st-century learning commons, contact Paragon Furniture for assistance.

We will help you through the redesign process and share our insight and resources to inspire you and your new space.

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.

With the Internet now just a finger swipe away, students and teachers no longer need a library to access critical information. But that doesn’t mean school libraries have become irrelevant.

On the contrary, school libraries are transforming from archives of information into vibrant “learning commons,” where students gather to learn key digital-age skills and construct new knowledge together.

As you redesign your own school libraries to meet new 21st-century needs, here are some ideas to help inspire you.

A ‘think tank’ for solving key challenges

At Swan Valley High School in Saginaw, Mich., “our library is the hub of the school,” writes Library Media Specialist Kay Wejrowski. “Each year, our library morphs itself into what the school needs.”

Wejrowski and her aides help teachers plan lessons using probing questions that get students to think more deeply.

Library lessons for all incoming freshmen lay the groundwork for their success in high school, teaching them about the resources that are available, how to be safe online, and how to create a digital footprint they can be proud of.

The school has turned part of its library into a maker space, and students also use the facility to video conference with authors, Holocaust survivors, and people from other parts of the world.

Each spring, library staff help students research their senior projects and give constructive feedback on students’ presentations.

When the Swan Valley School District cut funding to take preschoolers to the public library, the high school created an early childhood center in its library, with teens developing and teaching weekly reading lessons for these children.

When the school went 1:1 with tablets for all students, a library workroom was converted into a technology troubleshooting and repair station.

It short, it is the school’s library—which earned the 2013 Library Program of the Year award from the American Association of School Librarians—that “often serves as a think tank for evolving ideas and programs and finds solutions to local challenges,” Wejrowski notes.

A ‘barrier-free space’ for learning and innovation

When Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, redesigned its library, Librarian Carolyn Foote saw this as an opportunity to think beyond the traditional confines.

“I knew that I wanted the library to be a campfire space where students could gather, a collaborative space where they could work together in small groups, a transparent space where learning in the school could be ‘seen’ through the windows, a more barrier-free space in terms of student use, and an innovative space where the design would reflect the innovations that are going on inside our campus,” she writes.

To achieve these goals, the Westlake library includes glass walls, an outdoor courtyard area, and a “juice bar” that encourages students and teachers to come together, communicate, and share in the learning process.

Foote took inspiration from how other public spaces were designed to be both comfortable and attractive. She hoped for a place where students would want to gather and hang out as they learned or studied together.

So, she paid attention to small details such as the lighting fixtures, seating options, and colors in her own library’s design.

Her advice for other K-12 leaders as they redesign their library spaces? “Watch how students are using your current space. Watch what is giving them problems or causing confusion. Watch what their preferences are. Try to identify those key things about the space that do—or do not—work for your customers.”

Moving from a ‘transactional’ to a ‘transformational’ space

In transforming the library at Pomperaug Elementary School in Southbury, Conn., Media Specialist Jane Martellino began by changing the way she taught information literacy skills to students.

“The focus should be … on the shift libraries must make from transactional to transformational. I believe this shift occurs first in mindset, and then the physical transformation of the library space follows,” she notes.

“By changing both the way I taught, as well as the expectations for student learning, the results were obvious. Students were collaborating, creating, communicating, and dropping in any time they had moments to spare.

In no time at all, mindset shifted.” However, changes to the physical space had to be made incrementally, owing to budget constraints.

Martellino began by making simple changes, such as cleaning out her librarian’s office and transforming it into a “green screen” room and recording studio.

She also enlisted the help of custodians to move furniture in order to create larger spaces for specific learning needs as they arose.

Her vision going forward includes more flexible, agile furniture that can be moved easily without the help of custodians; portable dividers with writeable surfaces, such as Plexiglas walls on wheels; comfortable seating with built-in electrical outlets to welcome students and teachers to gather informally and chat; and collaboration centers where students can connect their mobile devices to flat screens for group collaboration or Skyping with experts.

Close your eyes and picture the school libraries you spent time in as a youth. Chances are they all looked pretty similar: Rows of thick wooden shelving piled high with books. Students sitting quietly at tables, reading independently or perhaps working together in hushed tones.

The school library was a place you came to check out books, or look up information in encyclopedias or other reference materials as you compiled a research report.

Younger students would have story time, and older students might use the library for studying.

But that’s changing. Mobile devices and wireless broadband have given students limitless access to information in the palm of their hands.

With a world of information now just a click away, the teacher’s role is no longer just to impart information but to have students co-construct new knowledge—often in collaboration with each other.

Learning is becoming more active and engaging, with students in charge of their own learning.

As teaching and learning have shifted in these fundamental ways, school libraries are transforming as well. Consider these examples:

  • At Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass., where all students use laptop computers for learning, the school has transitioned to a “bookless library.” A database with millions of digital texts replaced its 20,000-volume collection of books, and a café replaced the circulation desk. Instead of being a quiet place for students to study individually, the library is now a vibrant hub for digital learning and conversation.
  • Chicago’s Francis W. Parker School has redesigned its traditional library—with its cubicles and stacks that hindered collaboration—into one that fosters communication and cooperative learning. The school constructed a flexible, multipurpose space with moveable chairs, desks, and even bookshelves to support group projects, and students can write on the sides of the bookshelves with dry-erase markers.
  • At the International School at Dundee, a magnet elementary school in Riverside, Conn., students aren’t told to keep their voices down in the library. In fact, it can get noisy as students question guest speakers or give presentations to their classmates. In a maker space area of the library, students use a 3D printer to bring their creations to life. The school’s library is no longer a place for students just to check out a book or read; instead, students come for a variety of activities. They visit more often and stay longer as well.

From information archives to ‘learning commons’

In today’s information-rich society, students and teachers no longer need a library for access to information. But that doesn’t mean school libraries have become irrelevant.

On the contrary, it can be argued that school libraries are more important today than ever. They serve as a focal point for helping students and teachers navigate the flood of information available online and distinguish fact from fiction. In many school libraries, teachers and media specialists are teaming up to teach classes together, with the media specialist focusing on the technology and information literacy skills that students need to become effective citizens in the Digital Age.

As learning becomes more active and participatory, school libraries are transforming from archives of information into “learning commons,” where students come to learn key 21st-century skills and construct new knowledge together from many sources.

This new model is changing the design of school library spaces. Printed books are still important, but library spaces are no longer consumed by rows of bookshelves. There are now more open spaces and common areas that allow students and teachers to get together for creating, sharing, and collaborating.

As school libraries evolve to meet the changing needs of staff and students, K-12 leaders are redesigning their library spaces to support these emerging needs—and Paragon has created a free guidebook to help with this task. It includes action steps to follow, ideas for inspiration, and key issues to consider.

When we think of learning environments, we often think of how the desks and tables in a classroom are configured. That’s an important consideration, but it’s not the only factor affecting student success. How the design of these items makes users feel emotionally also is critical—and this can have a big impact on achievement.

How students respond emotionally to the sensory input they get from desks, chairs, and other elements in their environment is just as important as their physical comfort. Factors such as color and texture can affect a student’s mood significantly, and decades of research suggests this can influence a student’s ability to focus or succeed—for better or for worse.
Researchers Kristi S. Gaines and Zane D. Curry from Texas Tech University summarized a number of studies about the effects of color on students’ emotions and academic performance in a 2011 paper titled “The Effects of Color on Learning and Behavior.”
“Color is a powerful design element that produces profound psychological and physiological reactions,” they wrote. “Studies have shown a relationship between color preferences, emotions, and academic performance in students.”
However, because color affects different types of students in different ways, it’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions about which colors are best for which types of learning environments, Gaines and Curry wrote.
Similarly, the fabrics and materials that a piece of furniture is made from also play an important role in whether students are comfortable both physically and emotionally—and therefore whether they are learning to their full potential.
“There are a lot of children coming to school who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders or special needs, and many of them can be heavily affected by the different textures that are in classrooms,” says elementary school teacher Erin Klein, who studied interior design in college before entering the classroom.
Because children react to different colors or textures in different ways, it’s important for schools to offer furniture with a wide variety of colors and textures.
“Just like when we personalize instruction—the more ways we teach, the more students we reach—the more furniture options we have, the more accommodating we will be to our students,” Klein notes.