Monday, August 02, 2010

Library Redesign--A Work in Progress

Good libraries have alwys been places where personalized learning takes place.  Good libraries...have a variety of spaces for individuals and small groups to work toegehter and often have a place for larger group presentations as well. Of course, they are also text-rich.  The message in this type of architechture is, “Here are some of the tools for you to learn with.  You are a trusted learner.  Go for it!” 

It seems that redesigning the library is an ongoing project.  Going into my third year as librarian at our school, I feel like the space is finally becoming what I had imagined it could be.  There is still lots to do but we are moving in a direction that invites great learning.  In May, during the Ohio Summit, Christian Long recommended THE THIRD TEACHER: 79 WAYS YOU CAN USE DESIGN TO TRANSFORM TEACHING AND LEARNING.  So, if you have run into me at all this summer, I have probably mentioned the book.  It has had a huge impact on me.  We have passed it out in several Choice Literacy workshops and the audible squeal from the crowd has been quite fun!  After loving THE THIRD TEACHER sooo much, I moved on to another book by the same authors, Prakash Nair, Randall Fielding, and Jefrey Lackney, called THE LANGUAGE OF SCHOOL DESIGN. I read this one cover to cover and have gone back to it over and over again.  I have also spent a lot of time on the authors' website, DesignShare.  It has been fascinating for me to read about school design from people who design schools. My learning about this has always been limited to educators. This book helped me think about design and environment in a much more strategic way.  Although I had always thought long and hard about the creating great spaces for learning, this book helped me understand so much more about learning and design.  

So, we are redesigning the library a bit. There are still boxes and things that need to be done but some big changes are in place.  One of the big things that happened over the summer that was more cosmetic than anything, was that the library was painted. Really bright colors. (really bright:-) I am finding that students, parents, and community all come into the library with a traditional expectation of what should/could happen there. I want to expand that idea for everyone so I want them to come into something new this year.  With the help of our amazing art teacher and brilliant custodian, we picked bright primary colors and created a plan for changing the entire feel of the library.  The colors help set the stage for an expanded definition of the library.  (I admit, they are a bit bright but once we add student art, book displays, plants, etc.  it should be perfect. It just might take a few months.)

I have often said I loved the feel of coffee shops and that is what I am trying to create in schools.  I love the socialness but I also love the fact that there are options and depending on the goal of my visit to a coffee shop, the space I choose changes. After reading an article by Prakash Nair and Annalise Gehling, they shared their own findings of these spaces.  They say, "There are interesting things happening.  There are invitations to participate.  There are places to meet. There are places for solitude and reflection."  Isn't this what we are trying to create in our libraries?

The authors of THE LANGUAGE OF SCHOOL DESIGN share four kinds of space that I have been thinking about (they share others but these are the key types for me right now): Watering Hole Space, Cave Space, Real World/Life Project Space, and Campfire Space.  I had always created spaces like these but had never had them named for me. Learning from the authors of THE LANGUAGE OF SCHOOL DESIGN helped me to become more strategic about the spaces I create for students.  

Watering Hole Space is able to provide for small group work and socializing.  This is often  my space of choice when I work. I want many spaces in the library where kids can create, think, socialize and collaborate. Whether they are sharing thoughts on a book they are reading, playing a game, creating a film, or debating an issue they are researching, space needs to be available for this type of interaction.  

Cave Spaces are places for individuals to learn and think.  Our library is small so I worry about having enough of these. But the authors state, "Since students are able to concentrate and think more clearly in different kinds of Cave Spaces, the important thing is to provide a variety of nooks and crannies."  (The Language of School Design, page  141). Once we get into the routines of school, I'll be better able to see how student use the space but having flexible seating that can be moved to different parts of the room to create these cave spaces seems important.

We created a space that is much bigger--one that will allow
for large groups to gather.
Campfire Space is that space where a large group can gather in order to watch a presentation, listen to a storyteller, etc.  Since our library is small, this space has been hard to get.  It has been a missing piece--one that limits the things that can happen in the library and one that limits the ways students can share their own learning.  But this year, I moved one shelf to a new location and have now created a much larger floor space in front of our courtyard window. This space will allow for great learning--a large group can gather when needed but other activities can happen at other times.  The space is not ideal--just a large floor space. But it will allow for a type of sharing that wasn't possible before.

Project Space is the space where kids can create real projects.  I feel like we have good space for that. My challenge is that I want students to have access to pencils and sticky notes in the same way they have access to cameras, laptops, and iPods. Storing these in a place that is both secure and accessible is key.  I want students to be independent in the library so I want them to be able to get the tools they need to support their learning as quickly as possible.   I've created a corner space with a large table, the laptop cart, etc. I think kids will move all over the library but this space provides one great place to spread out and create.  

Yesterday, my daughter and I took a daylong trip to IKEA where we picked up some great things to add to the library. Once we had the big spaces in order, it is time to create some flexible spaces for kids and a variety of workspaces. If I think of all that can go on in the library, a variety of options for students is key.  

I am excited to think more about this. I have always believed that space and environment were key and it has been fun to rethink the space as I move into my third year as librarian. I feel like we have set the stage to expand the things that are possible in the library and I hope that the new changes will make the space even better.

Stay tuned for more info on the library throughout the next week or two.

**On a side note, if you are interested in thinking more about elementary design, Christian Long will be speaking at the fall Literacy Connection event on October 2.  On the homepage of his Be Playful site, he says, "Be Playful is a collaborative design studio empowered by the wisdom of play and focused on changing the way we learn."  Gotta love the whole philosophy that is behind this kind of design.   It should be a great day to continue thinking about design for elementary learners. 


  1. Oh Franki!!! I'm so excited....your library, the thinking behind it, and helloooo colors!!! those walls are looking so happy. Cant wait to go visit you....:)
    You should see me carryiing that Third Teacher book around me. Love it!

  2. I can already see the walls blending in a little with how you've moved things around. Can't wait to see what you do next!

  3. Franki, this post was perfect timing. My kids are headed out of town this week, and I'm thinking it is the perfect time to go to school to get my classroom arranged. With my new hopes for technology, I know I have to make some changes in the space in my classroom.

    Also, I want those quiet places students can work, as well as the places where students can socialize and small group areas. Thanks for sharing the naming of the spaces. Something about putting a label on something makes it easier to think about and discuss.

    I haven't read "The Third Teacher" though I have definitely heard the buzz in Central Ohio. I'm thinking I'm going to have to check it out before the new year begins. Good luck with the library. As always - thanks for sharing!

  4. When you are finished I will definitely be by for a visit.

  5. I love your thinking of the space and how to best set it up for comfort, learning and engagement.
    So interesting ..

  6. I love there's a name for the four areas we strive to create when setting up a classroom. I don't think parents and others often understand the work and thought. I think I will easily use these terms in my kdg. orientation to parents...environment is important. I've also been inspired over the years by Reggio Emilia.


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