Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Let's Get Physical!

The more things change...

A while ago an old student of mine (now a teacher), pointed out after I commented on someone's remark on his FB wall,  that she was my "grand-student."  Yikes.  I've been teaching long enough to have grand-students.

But the thing about longevity is you start seeing "the old ways" come back in updated iterations.  When I first started the library gig about 10 years ago it was all about digital, virtual spaces. I wasn't so much worried about the physical library, as developing our online presence.  And that's important.

But we've started seeing a shift back to THINGS: Print sales rose for the first time in years, and ebooks declined.  Learning has shifted from consumption to creation as MakerSpaces abound and even Forbes Magazine is calling for more emphasis on vocational education.  And more  and more we're understanding the impact of physical spaces on student learning.

Last year, my school initiated a five year plan we call FLoW21. Its mission: to completely rethink what learning looks like at WAB. We're not just doing bits and pieces, we're tackling the entire learning ecosystem, from curriculum to teaching, to systems, guessed it,  Learning Spaces.  Guess which committee I'm heading?

With all of this, I've been thinking quite a bit about the physical space in my library, its flexibility and whether it supports student needs and student learning.  It's a great space as is--we're packed during "free"blocks, but it's not all that flexible. I believe we can do better.

Thus, I've been reading.  A lot.  I'll link below to some books I've found especially helpful in organizing the two "think tanks" I have going, one made up of students, the other of teachers.

The first two activities, to get them thinking about the library, their beliefs about the library, and how it gets used.

 1) With one idea per sticky note, they brainstormed what the word "library" means to them.  Once they each had about 10 sticky notes, they places them on a large piece of butcher paper, then tried to determine the overall categories these fit into. Then we discussed those, questions they had, etc. I really should have recorded that conversation.  Next time.   As you can see from the photo, they thought in terms of Values, Environment, Systems and Activities.  As "homework" I've asked the teachers to come to the library during a couple blocks and just observe how students use and reconfigure space to their own needs.

2) As part of our FLoW21 study, we've been brainstorming around "Bob" and "Bobbie" imaginary students and what a typical day would look like for  them in our ideal school (think: self-directed, co-constructed, personalized learning).  Next meeting we'll do "Library Bob/Bobbie."  In this ideal school, how would they use the "ideal" library?  What would be available for them?   I'll also share the brainstorm session from another committee on the kinds of use we want to see happening.

3)  I'm collecting learning spaces ideas on Pinterest, to get their creative juices flowing.  Research tells us we need three types of spaces:  Caves (solitary spaces), Campfires (group learning) and Watering Holes (discussion). Or, put another way: Community, private, virtual, display and presentation spaces. I'll have the groups explore the Pinterest, then do a walking tour of our current space, discussing strengths and areas to improve.  Time for a new chart: Existing State ------ Desired State

Here's a short walk-through of the HS library.

This focuses on space, but I also want to discuss systems. Everything is on the table and open for change.

I haven't shared my ideas with anyone yet, as I don't want to influence them, but here's a summary of my thinking so far:

1) Less is More and the Library is Everywhere.
Shelving takes up a huge section of the center of the library. The students really like those two enclaves, but a lot of "shenanigans" also go on in there as it's hard to see due to the shelves. I want to open up that space for collaborative seating.  Thus, I'm doing a severe weed of the 000-930 to clear out space and have a tighter, more focused collection. I'm also thinking: Satellite libraries.  The HS here is spread into two buildings, separated by a pond. It's a 5-10 minute walk from one to the other.  I'm growing more and more convinced that books, to some degree, need to be where the students are. However pertinent a book might be, it's just easier for them to jump on to Google from class, than come to the library, so that's what they do.  I also don't think teachers are all that aware of what we have.  Fun fact: Hallways take up 40% of space in most schools. What a waste!  We're wondering how to reconfigure them into usable areas.  Pulling out lockers and adding shelving/chairs would create mini subject-specific libraries in key areas.  The library already doesn't have doors and our school is open to students 24/7. If we train students to use the Destiny app to self check-out, it would be an interesting experiment to see if there's increased usage and/or loss.

2)  Make it move.
Students are always dragging chairs and tables into different configurations. Why not make that easier?  Thus, we're looking at flexible furniture, rollers, etc.  We're talking about even putting the shelves on rollers, but I don't know how feasible that is.  A) Do I really want people rolling shelves around?  B) Given the weight of books,  those shelves are heavy. Not sure how much more movable they'd be, even on rollers. Or that rollers could sustain the weight.

3) "I Vant To Be Alone"
We have some good collaborative and hang-out spaces throughout the library and the HS in general. We really don't have private space, and that's going to be a hard one.  I also hate that corridor between the shelves and the windows. Kids pile up in there, throw their bags and books all over the floor turning it into quite the obstacle course.  I want to pull out the tables/chairs and have window seats (though not trees!) with power strips.  Semi-private space, and declutters it. It will also add some shelving,

4)  Collaborative Caves
Sometimes you want to work alone in a group.  With shelving out of the way, we'll have room for a couple collaborative pods with whiteboard tables and display screens where students can hook up and work together on presentations or whatever. We're also giving all the tables whiteboard tops.

5) Make the Virtual Tangible
I haven't figure out how to do it yet,  but I want to incorporate relevant digital material into the physical shelves.  If students are browsing for content on, say, the Cultural Revolution, I want an iPad or something there to point out relevant material in the databases, or have a QR code they can scan linking to a pathfinder or something.

How's that for a start?

Of course, we're doing more as a school.  Walls are coming down!  And we also have a bigger issue to consider: If every student has an individual plan, individual studies and areas of interest, how does the library support that?  I don't have an answer, but I'll definitely be pondering it.

Useful Books:
Blueprint for Tomorrow, Prakash Nair
High Impact Library Spaces, Margaret Sullivan
The Space, A Guide for Educators  Louise Hare
Design for the Changing Educational Landscape,  Harrison and Hutton


  1. Another resource that I found useful was
    and I'm with you there on the shelving - we have shelves on wheels and it's great because I could reconfigure everything when I wanted to and when we had a renovation we could reuse most of the shelving. BUT since the library is now the nicest space in the school it keeps on being reconfigured for meetings and presentations which is easy as they can move the shelves and put in chairs!!