School Library Design (Part One)

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

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

Part One

There is a great deal of online commentary about library design, especially with regard to making ourselves more relevant to the shifting needs of our users, e.g. imitating retail design, maker spaces, web 2.0 & information commons. School libraries are outliers in this conversation because we have a somewhat captive audience and so less imperative to prove our relevance. Simultaneously, most schools in the western world are absorbing technology at the fastest pace they can muster, but they are doing so with very little design thinking – in a hardware driven, facilities management way. This approach to technology is based on the industrial model which has made the school project so successful over the last 100 years. The best overview I can offer on this topic is Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on revolutionising education; I imagine that most of you have viewed it already, so perhaps try this more creative remix from the Royal Society of the Arts.

Information and its uses has flourished beautifully in both quantity and complexity in recent decades, and yet schools treat new technology & New Technologyinformation as material objects – which leads teachers and students in to understand it in the same way. Thus I argue that our users need school libraries to be relevant for them more than ever. I’ve done a lot of library design as part of my job, particularly small facilities with budgetary and space restrictions, but probably the largest constraint I face is how to balance the largely conservative needs of schools with the emerging needs of today’s new students. I’d like to discuss some of the philosophical underpinnings with which I approach this balancing act in the hope that there will be design lessons for the wider library audience.

Old PedagogySchool facilities have many authority structures built in to their design; behavioural authority such as we usually associate with police & government and also academic authority such as we associate with a university professor. These are simple structures with simple messages, yet ubiquitous and repetitive – rows of doors in long hallways call for order and routine, classroom desks all point toward the authority at the front of the room. However, they are not the designs of a machiavellian mind, some authority is indeed necessary in any large institution. These structures go back to the beginnings of public schooling (for more, google panopticon education), but they’re wearing thin for an educational system that is expected to produce creative, critical, reflective young adults ready for the unknown. My favourite philosophical approach to balance the needs of these diverse stakeholders is Third Space, a concept forwarded by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in 1989.

Stay tuned for part 2…

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