The changing role of the school library
I have some statistics for you relating to school library provision in England:
- More than 25% of secondary school libraries do not operate a full day.
- Only 17% of libraries have enough computers or laptops for an average size class.
- Almost a third of libraries have insufficient space.
- The number of books does not match the increasing number of students.
- Half of library budgets for books and resources have been frozen at the previous year’s level.
- It is statutory to have a library in a prison but not in a school.
The role of the library is changing as the needs of our children change. We have to change with them and adapt. But children still need the right environment for learning.
Children need to learn to read and it is our job to create the environment for them to do so. Even more than that it is our role to inspire children and to help them to develop a lifelong love of reading. The environment a pupil learns in is vital to their comprehension and desire to learn. We are already reading reports that literacy levels in children are falling - you don't need to be a genius to work out why. Why do successive governments continue to talk about falling education standards and yet do not tackle the fundamental issues. Back to basics? We've heard that said again and again. I know where I'd start.
Digital information, readily accessed from classrooms, homes, and mobile devices, is the choice of today's students and teachers—resulting in increasingly fewer in-person visits to libraries.
For a 100 years, many schools have created spacious rooms that contain thousands of books and other physical materials to support reading programmes, aid research projects, and expand the curriculum. Numerous studies show that schools with good library programmes are more successful than those without, validating the wisdom of education leaders who have invested in school libraries. Yet information seekers today have less need to visit a physical library to meet their needs.
The library as a physical space
Many school leaders are asking, Why does a school need a physical library when students can readily access information using a laptop, a tablet computer, or a mobile phone? Can these large, expensive spaces in our schools be used for other purposes that will produce greater educational benefits? When building a new school, should we ask whether it even needs a library?
Students still want to meet and learn in physical environments. Online bookstores have not killed the physical bookstore. But like bookstores, the school library needs to become a high-touch environment in a high-tech world.
Comfort and appearance are increasingly important. Upholstered seating, flexible furniture arrangements, and attention to aesthetics in lighting and colours help make the library a place where students and staff want to be.
The modern library is a place for teams to work together, formally and informally. For schools that have no other spaces for recreation and play, such as a student commons or an adequately equipped playground, the library can provide such spaces, especially before and after school. A successful library adopts a liberal definition of what constitutes constructive activity, allowing users to engage in gaming and research on topics of personal interest. Such a library may be the only place at school where some students feel at home.
We need to stop thinking of the library as a store—a place to "get stuff"—and start thinking of it as a kitchen—a place to "make stuff". Libraries are becoming maker-spaces, giving all students access to workstations with fast processing speed, adequate memory, and software for video and photo editing, music production, voice recordings, computer programming, multimedia composition, and even 3-D printers.
Designing and equipping school libraries for our times
As digital access moves from computer workstations to mobile devices, the physical library needs a robust wireless network infrastructure. Also essential are numerous electrical outlets to power and recharge mobile devices; indirect lighting that reduces screen glare throughout the library, not just in computer labs; and workspaces on which laptops can be placed at a good ergonomic height.
We can learn by looking at places where young people want to be. Coffee shops show that young people want social learning spaces. Gyms and theatres indicate that libraries should be performance spaces where young people can share information, not just absorb it. And finally, the popularity of social networking sites and media sharing sites demand that we make libraries knowledge-production areas.
A well-designed and widely used library is a physical indicator that a school embraces certain values regarding education; that multiple points of view have value; that teaching children how to think, not just memorise, is crucial; and that self-exploration should be encouraged. These values remain, even as the library space evolves.
As suppliers of specialist resources to school, academic and public libraries, Gresswell and LFC are committed to a focus on the benefits to a school of a library space and is working with the School Library Association to support, encourage and promote these spaces. We are delighted to sponsor the Inspiration Awards.