School Library Design (Part Two)

As a special feature as a part of our library spaces discussion topic we are showcasing a 2 part piece about School Library Design from  one of our participants, Alan Jacques.

School Library Design – A two part article that is, in truth, more philosophy than design 

Part Two (If you missed it, check out Part One

School Pic 1

School libraries are opportune places to experiment with educational design because more than any other structure in a school they are centres of enquiry, rather than instruction. They are a mainstay of user directed learning – yet we must also cater to the school’s overall culture, mission and objectives, which are usually conservative and authoritative in nature. My philosophy of choice to balance the needs of these diverse stakeholders is Third Space, a concept forwarded by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in 1989.

According to Oldenburg everyone has a first space, their home, which reinforces that personal aspect of their identity; and everyone has a second space, the workplace, that reinforces their professional identity. The third space is an open public place that we share with a wider diversity of others; it has looser boundaries and we use it to experiment with our identity. Common examples of third space are: coffee shops, barber shops, arcades, malls, pubs, some web spaces, and libraries. Third space is more about processes than structures, and so a library designer can cater to student needs while also satisfying conservative stakeholders with the expected structural educational markers of desks, booths, shelves, signage, and of course books.School Pic 2

School libraries are for enquiry; about research projects, about personal projects, about your relationships and about yourself. Oldenburg set some criteria to recognise a third space and these can be used to aid design. Third spaces are free or inexpensive – check. They involve a regularcrowd – free wifi, check. Welcoming & comfortable – haha, check. Conversation is a major activity – check, but ensure you zones & signage so people can choose. Friends, old & potential can be found – I ensure diversity in events, regular music, games, & book clubs, check. They are social levellers, there is no class, elitism, or snobbery – religion books, science books, sport books, drama books, history books, check. Users feel some ownership – I get students to organise the events, to choose the decorations, to help buy the books, to help maintain what few rules we have, check. There’s much more of course and you can Wikipedia third space & Oldenburg and follow the links to get started.

School Pic 3That last point has been really important for me – students must have freedom and agency if you want them to pick the library as their third space. You cannot make it a third space, they must choose it. If they get a whiff of being set up by adults they will abandon it faster than Facebook in 2012, after their grandparents started logging on. I start the process by asking student councils to help organise events, and then I let them run it as much as possible. And then I wait, and make minor changes, and wait. When you finally hit the sweet-spot your library will come alive, then you must be aware that students will do things unexpected and you must be ready to accept them as they are. Don’t get me wrong, I still eject disruptive students on a weekly basis, just like the ol’ days – but I also have girls clustering between the stacks, boys lying about reading, lots of YouTubed sport, and a veritable laptop slum. School Pic 4

A third space is like a viral internet meme, it isn’t easy to start up, and it probably won’t be the school library you intended or wanted – but if you can succeed in kick-starting it, they will want it, and more.

Thank you Alan for the fantastic post. If any other members of the ILN community are interested in contributing to the blog, please contact us.

Posted in Round 2.

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