Libraries for today and tomorrow: How is yours RELATIONAL, AUTHENTIC, FUTURE-FOCUSED, PERSONALISED, CREATIVE?

How does a school ensure that it is significantly resourced to provide for the learning and research needs of students, yet maintaining the relevance of the library? Learning communities need to have:

The ‘place’ that fulfils the need for communal work, learning, connection and play

Accessibility to resources

Personnel to manage the collection

A realistic view of books

Rather than arbitrarily dismantling the library and tossing out the books, how do you determine the future of the library? What we value is reflected in our decisions. Here five words, we use to filter for 21stC thinking in education:


Recently, I was with a group of educational and architectural professionals on a site tour of a shiny new senior high school within a developing satellite urban centre. The school is located in the heart of the retail/business area, sharing facilities with the community. In the library I watched as an older gentlemen replenished his fiction supply for the coming week, and considered the timeless value of fiction and other narratives. Then I noticed a book on display. What made someone think An Introduction to Email was an inspiring book to display on the library shelf?

Written in 2000, it had helpful chapters like “How to send an attachment”. A children’s book about email? It was a stark reminder of how we need to think deeply about books, what’s valuable and how we access them, and what’s unnecessary.

In my travels over the last few years I have visited a number libraries. In particular:

  • DOK, Delft
  • TU Delft
  • The Idea Store, Whitechapel (London)
  • Vittra School, Stockholm

These libraries each displayed certain characteristics, clear about their values. DOK is a community library in Delft in the Netherlands who say “we do locally what Google does globally”. In the same city, TU Delft is a strikingly designed university library, that has created different types of spaces and places to work and learn. The Idea Store is in Whitechapel in London and, like DOK, is creating a place for the community. The people were working together, working alone on their computers and hanging out in the cafe on the top floor with a great view of the city.

View from the cafe on the top floor

When we visited Vittra School in Stockholm, the city ‘required’ that the school had a library – they came up with a space for the small book collection in the school.

In our communities we need places where people can meet, work, learn, read, be comfortable and belong. Being surrounded by books can create the aesthetic ambience we like. Fiction and biographies maintain popularity as paper-based books. A great fiction collection is essential but there are many non-fiction books that seem to be only shelf-fillers.

DOK is a central place in the community.

As I watched the older gentleman borrow his books I imagined him spending his time engrossed in the adventures contained within.

The wall of books.

Are there creative solutions for storing books, but opening up spaces for people? In the TU Delft library the book stack creates an entire wall, four levels up, accessed by stairs – it’s visually striking and useful. The books are available and easily accessible, and the space is freed up for the people.

As SCIL we have distilled today’s context for learning to five concepts: Relational, Authentic, Future-focused, Personalised and Creative. These are the filter for learning, They can equally apply to libraries.

Relational: It’s a place where people connect, create the atmosphere. People first.

Authentic: If books are out of date and no longer used, make the big decision.

Future-focused: Think about Borders. Concurrently assess the current user needs and while simultaneously looking ahead to the future trends

Personalised: Does the community feel like this is a place where they belong? Consider the DOK mantra: “we do locally, what Google does globally”?

Creative: Is there a buzz? People work in different ways and spaces can create the vibe for create and meaningful work

In the early 80’s I commenced my career in education as a teacher-librarian in a primary school. Libraries still have a place, it’s just different now.


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