School library.
Beyond the Classroom

Defining The Modern School Library

School libraries, i.e., the media center, has changed with the times. Has yours?

Gone are the days of the librarian reminding kids to keep it down. Traditional study carrels have been replaced with beanbag chairs, computers are everywhere, and collaborative, lively dialogue is encouraged. Welcome to today’s new library.

In many cases, it’s not even called a library anymore. With the pressure to remain relevant in a constantly shifting digital landscape, the learning commons or media center goes beyond books. Now the library is an open, tech-friendly hub with an emphasis on resources that teach 21st-century skills.

As long as new technologies continue to emerge (and they will), libraries must be ready to also evolve and transform.

Here are five key ways libraries are responding to the needs of next-generation educators and learners.

1. Even more technology

It’s not enough to throw a few desktop computers together and call your library digitally vogue. “Technology has been the driving force of change for the 27 years I have worked in school libraries,” said Ruth Bilderback, media specialist at Reynoldsburg City Schools in Ohio.

These open, tech-friendly hubs allow libraries to move away from a “bricks and mortar” to a “clicks and mortar” approach by providing online access to library resources and book collections.

“The greatest change in the use of technology is, of course, the access to online information,” Bilderback said. “There is no longer a need for rows and rows of reference books. That change has freed up space to add computers; now with so many personal devices available, the space can transition again.”

In fact, bring-your-own device (BYOD) policies are being embraced more and more by school libraries across the country. A 2013 Pew Research Center study found that about 37% of teens aged 12–17 own a smartphone and three-fourths use mobile devices to access the Internet at least occasionally.

2. Establishing virtual learning opportunities

A child’s learning extends beyond the school library walls. No matter if they’re inside or outside of the classroom, a virtual space where students can tap in from anywhere promotes independent exploratory learning. Cloud-based applications, mobile technologies, online database collections are readily available to many students today. Remote access is the direction libraries are moving in – and fast. Even solutions like an “Ask a librarian . . . live!” button on your library’s website, web-based Q&A sessions, or live-chat homework helper service turn libraries into 24/7, on-demand resources.

3. Physical design + layout

Physical presence can make or break the collaborative culture and effectiveness of an information center. Libraries must be able to foster different learning styles with unique spaces, or so-called zones, equipped with movable furniture for group or individual study. The variety allows students to quickly change the quality of their space by simply moving or rearranging their environment. David Thornburg Ph.D., an award-winning futurist, author, and consultant, suggests there are three types of learning spaces:

  • Active, flexible learning spaces support team collaboration and project-based learning
  • Semi-private, breakout spaces for small groups to collaborate, share information and host project updates
  • Quiet hideaways can help students focus and dive into their studies

4. Making room for a makerspace

An area that lets students build, assemble, and experiment — that’s the makerspace. And more schools are incorporating them into their libraries or classrooms. In connection with the library, the makerspace gives students the materials, tools, and workspace to push their creative selves. Participants in a survey by School Library Journal indicated that 23% already have makerspaces and another 9% are planning to add them. Makerspace activities are limitless and can range from prototyping to 3D modeling to video editing to arts and crafts.

5. Being flexible and adaptable

Perhaps the most important way libraries can stay ahead of the digital curve is by designing a learning commons with the future in mind. This means things like movable furniture and interior walls that can easily be removed. As long as new technologies continue to emerge (and they will), libraries must be ready to also evolve and transform. We can’t always predict the future but we can at least root ourselves in our foundational ideals while being ready to adapt to the ever-changing pace of technology.