What if we Changed the Way Schools do Library?

Hi 5 your school library with these 5 cool ideas

My school will have a new middle school/high school librarian next year and a number of faculty members have bounced ideas around with the incoming librarian.

One idea that came up concerned the traditional expectation for silence in the library.

Where did that concept come from? Historymagazine.com points out that, following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the concept of the library was kept alive in Western Europe via Christian monastaries. And, not only did monasteries house books, the monks were active in copying them. According to Wikipedia, St. Benedict – “sometimes regarded as the founder of Western monasticism”- established a set of rules governing life in monasteries. In the list of St. Benedict’s rules posted on Wikipedia, the need for silence shows up a number of times:  

  • moderation in the use of speech
  • do not speak until spoken to…do not laugh… speak simply and modestly
  • strict silence after Compline (prayers at the end of the day)

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If we want students to be emotionally engaged in ideas and learning, is absolute silence really the appropriate medium? When you learn something cool, don’t you feel like turning to a friend and making a comment? Isn’t it necessary to debate ideas and roles with your partners on a cooperative learning project? Isn’t some noise a good thing?

Yes, someone might be doing some research or writing an important paper, requiring quiet. But, maybe that’s where space redesign comes in.

A library would make a great hub for students to gather at their school and share ideas, do work and simply explore the world. So, what if the library was no longer a big space with stacks and stacks of books? What if there were many different nooks for different activities?

Five cool ideas that my peers came up with include:

  • An album listening room – yes, a soundproofed room with shelves and shelves filled with old and new vinyl records, along with turntables for playing them. What a great way to explore the past – through music and old-school technology.
  • A stage/performance/speaker space – like London’s old “speakers’ corner” concept, provide students with a stage on which the Drama club can deliver impromptu performances, where student government candidates can deliver speeches, where people can simply vent about homework.
  • A debate area – why simply read about old and new ideas when you share them with peers and discuss their merits? Teachers can even book the space for Socratic seminars or formal class debates.
  • A research center – exploring the world should still be at the heart of any library, so why not a lab of some kind, or at least a place where students can connect to the internet (and a power supply) to conduct research for essays or prepare for exams.
  • A film viewing center – like the album room above, why not a place for students to view educational videos (TED Talks, YouTube content, etc.). Or, perhaps unwind with friends after school by watching a Hollywood flick.

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The recent education documentary Most Likely to Succeed, pointed out that our current school system was created in the 1890s. That may be old, but, our current library model seems to be rooted in St. Benedict and the 490s! Maybe it’s time to really look at our libraries and inject some new ideas into them.

What do you think?

Hi 5!

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9 thoughts on “What if we Changed the Way Schools do Library?

  1. Mr. Anderson says:

    Have you spent much time in a library? Have you seen the way students interact with information? If so, you’d know most of these ideas are terrible. Dedicating a whole space to listen to albums or watch films is short-sighted and antiquated in an era of SoundCloud, YouTube, etc. Most schools have 1:1 programs, where students have their own laptops. Regarding debate/performance space, it would have to be far away from students trying to focus on their homework, and it wouldn’t be used most of the time. Try explaining to those students who want to sit down and do homework that they can’t use the debate space, even when the rest of the library is full. Regarding libraries as a place to plug in a computer and connect to the internet, even 20 years ago that comment would not have been novel. I’m afraid for you and your group of peers.

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    1. Mr. Bennett says:

      First off… No need to be condescending. Would you ever speak to a student or colleague like that in person? Just because you’re on the internet doesn’t mean you are allowed to rude.

      Secondly, I think the idea of a listening room is “antiquated”, but that’s what makes it worthwhile. Students today have never experienced listening to a vinyl record so giving them a space to discover music in a different way would be awesome. Is this a particularly realistic use of limited space and resources within the library? Probably not, but it’s an idea designed to get us thinking outside of the box.

      Third, you wrote: “Most schools have 1:1 program.” I’d like to know how you define “Most.” In my admittedly quick google search, it didn’t seem like there was any firm statistics on what percent of the American were using a 1:1 system. Some of the more aggressive 1:1 states, such as Minnesota, reported that about 55% of schools have some sort of 1:1 device (https://goo.gl/7ltxC6). So if the states that are on top of edTech are only at 55%, what about the states that are not? I think it is likely that “most” do not have 1:1 programs, although it is definitely a growing trend.

      Finally, a stage or debate space would be a great way to reimagine or reenergize the boring, old, quiet library. Of course, we still need to provide a quiet space for students to do their homework or conduct research, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find ways to reinvigorate the common library space and provide for both activities.

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      1. mrdeehanclass says:

        Thank you Mr. Bennett for your thoughtful comments and ideas. My favorite part of this blog is the opportunities it provides in terms of meeting awesome new people and sharing best practices. Thanks again and I look forward to more communication between us!!

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  2. mrkauf says:

    I love the idea of multifaceted spaces throughout a library. I would like to see a maker space close by as well to make the connection between knowing and doing.

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