Modern library learning environments


Modern learning environments: an introduction
Modern library learning environments
Key elements in designing modern school library spaces
Designing library spaces for learning
Learning spaces
Challenges in rethinking library design
Stakeholders: MLLEs aligned with values, vision and goals
Case studies and examples
Further reading

Modern learning environments: an introduction

The concept of the Modern Learning Environment (MLE), now also known as Innovative Learning Environment (ILE) is an holistic one, encompassing the pedagogy of learning to the physical and virtual spaces in which it occurs.

The New Zealand Ministry of Education offers information on ILEs and CORE-Ed offers an MLE Matrix. It also looks at the ubiquity of learning – requiring a learner-centred approach to time, place, access and support – and the networked connectedness of people and technologies that underpin this.

Modern library learning environments

When considering what the MLE might mean for the library as a ‘modern library learning environment’ each of the following characteristics can pose some challenging questions for your school to consider.

A modern library learning environment (MLLE) may be described as:

  • a place for end-to-end learning: consuming and digesting information, creating new knowledge, and producing and sharing new knowledge
  • a place where multiliteracies are developed and promoted through access to print, digital and multimedia collections
  • a place where library staff and teachers continually collaborate to support and nurture confident literate students, encouraging and enabling deep thinking and creativity
  • a place for creating, developing and encouraging readers to develop a passion for books and reading across different formats
  • a dynamic transformative learning centre that provides a welcoming, vibrant and culturally inclusive environment
  • a place of awe and enchantment, exploration and curiosity
  • a large, flexible learning space based on fluid design principles
  • a space that includes print, e-resources, and multi-media, and provides access to a range of ICT hardware and software fully supported by robust ICT infrastructure
  • providing seamless access to information resources, apps, advice and support to the classroom, home and mobile devices 24/7

Key elements in designing modern school library spaces

Access to unlimited and unbiased information and knowledge continues to be the mainstay of the MLLE, enabling teachers and students to use library services in person and virtually.

In their article School libraries building capacity for student learning in 21C (PDF) Lyn Hay and Colleen Foley write: "A school library that becomes a high-end production facility builds capacity for student learning in the 21st century".

In considering how that vision might translate into library and learning spaces now and throughout the century ahead, there are many scenarios for library learning spaces that are possible models for the future. To guide the development of visions for those spaces, the primary goal must be to:

  • enable students to use print and digital information to create new knowledge.
  • offer a place where transformative student learning happens constantly.
  • maximise the educative value of available and emerging technologies to enhance teaching and learning.

Functional elements within a MLLE

In order to support the goals outlined above, designing a MLLE includes providing spaces to:

  • Enable learning to be demonstrated by students participating, reading, watching, publishing, creating, researching, performing in groups or individually.
  • Enable learning through engagement with knowledge, guided by teachers and library staff, using tools and resources made available by library.
  • Make good use of the freedom that ubiquitous wi-fi mobile devices deliver, allowing creativity in the design of physical space.
  • Have flexible spaces that can be adapted for individual, small or large group use with acoustic considerations. This will allow students to work individually, to reflect, as well as collaborate on projects, and discuss and share ideas.
  • Promote, support, encourage and enhance students’ love of reading.
  • Encourage active learning with formal and informal areas, comfortable seating for reading, reflecting, participating, and facilitate BYOD learning with group areas that encourage teaching, learning and sharing.
  • Have well designed areas for collections that support literacy, lifelong learning and the curriculum.
  • Allocate space for differing functions and align it to the amount of time spent on that function eg: as technologies such as RFID become commonplace the traditional issues desk will become redundant.
  • Have interiors designed using modular, flexible, multi-use furniture. Power points will be installed everywhere and offer charging for mobile learning devices.

Terminology applying to the school library continues to evolve, from ‘information centre’ to ‘learning commons’, and more recently, ‘information hub’. These and other similar terms reflect evolving concepts of ‘library’, especially in the context of the MLE.

Designing library spaces for learning

The design thinking about the school library physical environment places more focus on the learning that will take place in the space than on the resources or collections that are housed there.

Understand your learners - their needs, their learning styles and preferences. Reflect these in vibrant differentiated zones that will support and stimulate them to discover, collaborate, connect, create and share their knowledge.

Encouraging and listening to student voice is critical in the design process.

Learning spaces

The creative metaphors for different learning spaces were originally coined by David D Thornburg in his paper: Campfires in cyberspace: primordial metaphors for learning in the 21st century (2007 ed) (PDF). This in turn has been further developed by CORE-Ed (PDF).

Although these metaphors were applied to learning spaces generally, consider how each point might be applied to a library learning space:

  • Campfire: a place to learn from experts or storytellers. A place for whole-group discussions.
  • Watering hole: a space for small group discourse and collaboration.
  • Cave: a space for individual study, reflection, quiet reading and creative flow.
  • Mountaintop: a place to present and share your learning - “to sing it from the mountaintop”.
  • Sandpit: a place to play and experiment.
  • Makerspace: a place to design and create.
  • Genius bar: a tech support station to offer help and support for the use of devices and applications.
  • Nooks and crannies: small, individualised spaces where learners can discover or create and nestle in.
  • Spaces within spaces: a small enclosed space within a larger open space.
  • Breakout spaces: smaller separate spaces where learners can get together to discuss and share.

Challenges in rethinking library design

As the principal leads the team that undertakes research and thinking to develop the shared vision of library as learning space, there may need to be some profound shifts in thinking, and a paradigm shift in how the role of the library is conceived.

Challenges may include:

  • Shifting thinking from collections to learner outcomes
  • Raising the bar on expectations for the library role
  • Integrating the role of the library into the teaching team philosophy.
  • Creating linkages between the library and the learning hub / classroom – physical, virtual and pedagogical
  • Not thinking ‘either / or’, but ‘and / and’.
  • Instead of thinking ‘book or technology’, thinking ‘book and technology’.
  • Applying the same level of creativity and innovation to the library / information hub environment as you do to the rest of the school development.
  • Conceptualising the school library as a whole school resource offering equity of access, support and encouragement to all students regardless of their ability, age or background.

The principal-led team will explore questions such as:

  • How to create the physical, virtual and pedagogical links between the library as a learning space and the classroom/learning hub?
  • How the library as space can add value to or complement the open learning hub school environment / a traditional single cell classroom environment.
  • How virtual spaces and resources integrate with the physical space.
  • How you can use the library space to strengthen linkages with your community.
  • How you can integrate technology into your library design to provide seamless access and connectivity to resources and people outside the school.
  • How you can upgrade your libraries - what to keep, what to change, and what to delete.
  • Identifying the barriers to creating Modern Library Learning Environments.
  • Identifying the opportunities.

Stakeholders: MLLEs aligned with values, vision and goals

As with all significant planning involving major change in your school, there will be key people and groups who need to be involved from the earliest stages:

  • Students, teachers
  • Principals, school librarians, Boards of Trustees
  • Architects and designers
  • National Library Services to Schools

Whanau and the wider school community can also play a part in the consultation and communication process, ensuring that the vision for the future is grounded in the school’s values and philosophy.

A wide range of possibilities and ideas can then be collated, sifted and shaped into a scoping document to which all stakeholders will have access.

The opportunity to design a new physical library space can be a catalyst for rethinking the role and place of the library within the school. However, changing roles, relationships and processes for supporting learners only leads to better practices and learner outcomes when the whole school community understands the rationale for change and the vision for the future.

Case Studies and examples

Amesbury School – YouTube video.
This short video shows how the library at Amesbury School, in Churton Park, Wellington, is integrated into all learning programmes, at the heart of the school conceptually and physically.

Bradbeer, Chris. (28 April 2012). Open learning spaces: linking pedagogy and classroom design.
In his blog, an Auckland teacher explores issues around how libraries support learning in innovative schools with large open learning spaces.
He also examines students’ love of smaller spaces within large open spaces and how this can influence design and planning (10 March 2013)

Heppell, Stephen. Library ideas: a place to pin ideas from or for libraries around the world
A Pinterest of school library images with brief annotations, featuring innovative features from libraries all over the world. You may find ideas for imaginative spaces-within-spaces here.

The School libraries project took place in the Capitol Hill area of Washington DC, 2006-7, involving eight schools and hours of volunteers’ time. The Washington Architectural Foundation identified eight architects who designed these new library spaces, transforming outdated spaces into modern libraries. This site has photos of each library, but little detail on the pedagogy that underpinned each development.

Sullivan, Margaret. (11 March 2011). Divine design: how to create the 21st-century school library of your dreams. School library journal.
The writer, a designer of school libraries, discusses how you determine the best way to “turn your library space into a learning center that’s right for today’s rapidly changing digital world.”  Illustrated with photos of transformed libraries in some of New York City’s poorest neighbourhoods.

Yanchus, Kathy. (19 June 2013). School libraries evolving into 21st century learning spaces. Flamborough review.
Here a school in Flamborough, in the heart of Ontario, Canada, has transformed the library into a learning commons.  This newspaper article describes the transformation: “It’s a place where you inquire about things, work together to solve problems. You’re learning about media and using digital technology …[It’s] not just a physical entity, it’s a philosophy.”

Further reading

The following online articles and blog posts were accessed 10 August 2013:

Image: Creating the Future for Libraries blank book, by the Shifted Librarian on Flickr