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Students in Library

School Libraries: From Catacombs to Cafés

  • March 10, 2016|
  • 3 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solutions Architect

Quiet, please. The hallowed halls of historic libraries are a reflection of an era in the organization and dissemination of knowledge when books were precious and protected, when access was for the privileged few, and when librarians were more gatekeepers than educators. Despite the majestic beauty of places like Trinity Hall in Cambridge, which dates back to 1590, these spaces seem anachronistically formal to us today. The hard seating pews and tomes once chained to the desks no longer create the most inviting or effective of learning environments. Times have changed and libraries are following suit.

From Pews to Pixels: Digital Transformation

Trinity Hall’s medieval feel is a stark contrast to the future-friendly libraries being built today. One example of libraries’ current—or for many, impending—evolvements is the new Hunt Library on NC State University’s campus in Raleigh, North Carolina. Hunt Library embodies what might have been hardly a figure of imagination a few years ago, boasting open, automated, lab-like design and plenty of diverse, functional, and technology-enabled spaces to go around. The most noteworthy components include:

· bookBot: A state-of-the-art automated book delivery system with capacity for 2 million volumes, plus touch screen access to the library’s online catalog.
· NextGen Learning Commons: A high-energy, student-focused setting for interactive computing, gaming, and new technologies.
· Teaching and Visualization Lab: A “black box” for high-definition visualization and simulation, offering 80 linear feet of 3D, immersive projection on three walls.
· Makerspace: A technology-rich space where students can complete hands-on work, creating working prototypes, architectural models, and other objects with tools including 3D printers, a 3D scanner, and a laser cutter.

The new vision for libraries coincides with industry and governmental initiatives to reimagine education through a broader use of open education materials (OER). To achieve this, schools need to better harness, curate, categorize, tag, and deploy digital educational resources.

This shift in focus is also contributing to physical differences in today’s, and tomorrow’s, libraries. One aspect of being future friendly is facilitating community. While before, spaces for group work were an anomaly, now communal learning space is central to student needs. Quiet, personal space for study has been pushed to the outskirts, kept for necessity’s sake, while space for collaborative learning is taking center stage.

From Gatekeeping to Opening Minds

As libraries continue to transform, transitions will require new ways of thinking, new tools, and initiatives such as Project Connect, sponsored by Follett, which exists to help create “future-ready” K-12 libraries and librarians. That specific project provides what they they call a “toolkit for transformation” to schools that are ready to move forward. According to an article on THE Journal, the provided toolkits will be complete with “framework for revamping relevant job descriptions, roles, and evaluation rubrics for school librarians.”

Similarly, a project called the Future Ready Libraries Initiative offers suggestive focal points for restructuring to effectively redirect librarians’ focus. As cited on eSchoolNews, objectives include:

• Educational leadership
• Professional development
• Instructional partnership
• Digital citizenship and leadership
• Curriculum and technology integration
• Information literacy
• Content access and curation
• Reading and literacy advocacy
• Making and building
• Equitable access

It’s easy to see why tomorrow’s librarians will be focused on student creation rather than collection curation.Their roles are becoming devoid of “shhh,” and instead, now encompass teaching digital citizenship, problem solving, and innovation. Librarians have left the “quiet, please” mentality behind and are now instead encouraging meetings, collaboration, and student-student or student-teacher interactions.

After all, it’s students’ minds educators are trying to build upon, not bookshelves. As schools aim to repurpose libraries and redirect the efforts of librarians, it will be helpful to strive for a specific vision. As organizations move along the spectrum from “quiet please” to “let’s meet,” educators will need to imagine what those meetings should look like—and how to best facilitate them.


1. “K-12 Librarians’ Roles Shift to Meet Digital Demands” Education Week. April 13 2015.
2. “Project Connect Develops Toolkit for Future-Ready Librarians” THE Journal. July 27 2015.
3. “Is your library going Future Ready too?” eSchool News. December 1 2015.
4. “The Evolution of the College Library” The Atlantic. December 4 2013.
5. “Explore Hunt Library Spaces” NCSU LIbraries.
6. “School LIbrarians Push for More ‘Maker Spaces’” Education Week. May 12 2015.