School libraries shelve tradition to create new learning spaces

The Guardian, 08/01/15, you might think technology would spell the end of books and libraries. But many schools have embraced the digital revolution and built innovative spaces that foster a love of literature. HMC member school the Stephen Perse Foundation features.

What happens to school libraries when students find it more natural to turn to a computer screen than a book?

That is the question facing schools around the world as they struggle to keep up with the digital revolution while fostering a love of literature.

Many have found creative answers, developing spaces that allow children to make discoveries, put technology to imaginative use, learn, perform, and relax – as well as to read. In the process, libraries have often come to be the school’s focal point.

Flexibility is key for modern school libraries says Simon Armitage, a member of the senior management team at the Stephen Perse Foundation, an independent school in Cambridge. “Who knows what the next year will bring in terms of how we encounter information and knowledge?”

The foundation has a junior school, senior school and a combined pre-school, infant and junior school on a different site, each with a new library, designed with the different age groups in mind.

“We are looking at learning spaces as a whole, with the realisation that children don’t just learn in classroom boxes but in any space,” says Armitage. “We thought libraries need to be more than sets of book shelves and where children are made to sit and read and be quiet by a librarian who is a custodian of books.”

The junior library is made up of an indoor and outdoor space with a stage, special reading seat and cosy places to squirrel away with a book. All non-fiction books have been taken out and put into classrooms, leaving the library purely for the discovery and enjoyment of literature.

The senior school library is based on the medieval idea of a cabinet of curiosities and is designed to be a place where older children can encounter information and knowledge in intriguing ways and make unexpected connections. It hosts temporary exhibitions, making full use of its location in Cambridge to source suitable artefacts for displays, which so far have included the Great War, Sherlock and a history of medicine. It also uses iBeacon technology to trigger information relevant to particular parts of the library directly onto students’ iPads as they move around.

Teachers often hold lessons in the library, and Armitage says students appear to feel more comfortable in it than in its former incarnation. “It’s a space they can own and discover,” he says. Now the school wants to reinvent a library specifically for the sixth form, planning a space that encourages students to gather information not just from books and technology but also from listening to other people’s stories and points of view. The idea is to give them an insight into different life paths, as well as help prepare them for university.

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