The 21st C School Library

I have mentioned previously that sometimes an idea has its time and this seems to well and truly be the case for discussion on learning spaces. I was privilidged to be a part of the Apple Global Leadership Summit in Hong Kong last month where Stephen Heppell delivered a fabulous keynote during which he shared specific illustrated examples of schools coming to terms with changes in education and trying to plan spaces and environments conducive to the changes.

Stephen forced the audience to really think about how schools might provide spaces that are felxible, adaptable, engaging, inspiring and supportive of new modes of learning that we can only just dream about now. Notes for this aspect of his presentation are here. They are well worth a look for schools looking at building or redesign of spaces.

Following on from this, ISB Bangkok apears to have recently flown out more US educators, one from a little closer to Thailand, to advise them on an upcoming renovation of their Main Library. On an aside, it makes me a little angry to hear some international schools say that they have no money for sending staff to a conference in their home city when others find the money to do things like this! Completely off the topic but sometimes it is great to get a rant off your chest :).

It seems from Kim’s post that, unsuprisingly, these powerful thinkers were able to make a great contribution to the learning space that ISB will create.

Hot on the heals of this comes a discussion on a list I belong to where an Australian teacher poses the question:

Our school (primary in SE Queensland) will have a new library built with money from Federal Govt as announced recently.  Apparently while the govt build the shell of the building, we (the staff) were asked today how we would design the internal requirements for a library for the 21 century. As we were reminded, something that would be there long after (many of us) had long gone.
I would appreciate your thoughts about what you believe should be included/designed  in a primary school library for the new century.

As you can imagine, a list with a lot of forward-thinking educators on it was set alight by this question. One of the best framed replies, however, came from W.A. Educator and friend, Brett Clarke.

I presume you have already googled “21st century school libraries” (without the quotes).

It produces a number of relevant hits including
which poses the most relevant question
“So what purpose do school libraries (yours in particular) serve in the 21st century school / learning community?”
Until you have determined this, design decisions lack a solid foundation. Any architect / designer needs to know the specific purpose/s for which a space will be used and the desired “feel” (emotion to be engendered) in the space before they can begin serious design work.
Also google UNESCO and 21C school design – they have created some specific documents on design of educational spaces.
Prakash Nair is generally considered the world authority on 21C school design (see Fielding Nair International)
It will probably take 3 years to design and build and hopefully be relevant for 15.
Remember that someone designing a school library 15 years ago probably wouldn’t have considered the existence of the internet/WWW or wireless networks – so what do you think will be around in 10-15 years?
Chris Betcher suggested
which suggests some useful points.
However, suggestions such as lots of powerpoints etc, represent today’s thinking not tomorrow’s – and implies a belief that there will be lots of computers that need to be plugged in.
After spending the last 6 years in a school with over 1200 laptops, nowhere in the school needed lots more power points, let alone the library, and in 3-4 years it is less likely to be so (with the emphasis moving to mobile, rather than just portable, computing power – devices will last a whole school day…).
The presentation does highlight the importance of flexibility (everything on wheels – which is a good point).
No internal load bearing walls is the other!
Is the library of the future quiet or collaborative – and how can you have a lot of different groups collaborating/presenting and the noise not disturb/interfere with the other groups?
Noise control/compartmentalisation is important.
Whilst students will continue to create dioramas as part of project work that would need to be displayed as they are today – perhaps in a place we currently refer to as a library, more of their work will be digital and needs a similarly comprehensive opportunity for being shared (and for interacting with) with a broad, casual audience. – ultimately large touch screens. Depending on the size of group imagined, the projectors suggested in the wiki above may be better replaced with touch screen LCD type panels (IWBs will be replaced by these once these panels get cheaper in a few years). If ultra short throw projectors (with IWB) are installed – be prepared for replacement – google “microsoft surface”.
When it comes to sharing digital work, our current model is often to connect a computer (via a tether/umbilical VGA/DVI/audio cable) to a video projector for others to view.
Expect a change in this model to one more like the AppleTV “entertainment hub” where the display device has (or is permanently connected to) its own intelligence – and artifacts are wirelessly (perhaps temporarily) transferred/connected to it, so it can be viewed (and even better, interacted with – see surface reference above). Gigabit wireless may well be here before your “library” is built (along with wireless USB etc).
(Anyone know of an ultra short throw video projector with 802.11n (fast wireless) connectivity and enough built in intelligence to host a VNC client?) Didn’t think so… but one would be really useful!)
Sony/Epson/Mitsubishi are you listening???
Delay the specification and procurement of the actual technology related aspects for as long as you can.
Get advice from someone experienced in the design of technology enhanced learning environments.
The BER is putting great demands on the architectual profession – many architects who are not experienced in this field are already being approached to undertake these works due to the volume of work and short timeframes. Find out what experience the practice assigned to your project has.
The other major question to ask is
“What advantage would students of the future get (or should get) going to your “library” that they couldn’t get in other learning spaces that will be dripping with wireless information access and probably have an IWB or similar?
Is it the library staff?
Is it the books?
Is it the flexibility of the learning space/s?
We have had computer labs, but they are becoming irrelevant now given that those functions can be in any classroom today with laptop technology.
Is a single location in a school called a library going to be irrelevant in the near future?
What might “distributed libraries” look like?
Could every classroom be a “library”? What would it take?
I think that every submission for the “Building the Education Revolution”, should be subject to these kinds of 21C schooling questions relevant to the specific building submission before approval.
This initiative is a great opportunity to move forward, or waste a lot of money and opportunity and build for the present.
I hope every school has someone like you who is asking good questions in a useful forum like this.
Please contact me off-list if you would like to discuss any of the above in more detail…
Hope some of this helps…
Brett Clarke
Apple Distinguished Educator, 2002.

I would be very interested to know if your schools are engaging in this sort of discussion.



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