I walk into almost all of our schools in West Vancouver and very often the first thing people want to show me or talk to me about is the changes happening around the library. Or more specifically, schools are taking great pride in their learning commons spaces that are developing. While the physical spaces are exciting, the changes to our mindsets are far more powerful. We are not destined for new schools in West Vancouver anytime soon but the rethink of the library has been both a symbolic and concrete shift in how we think about space and how we think about learning. The school library – a centre piece in schools – is now the modern hub for learning.
I like the library metaphor from Joan Frye Williams (shared in this blog from Joyce Valenza):
Our libraries should transition to places to do stuff, not simply places to get stuff. The library will become a laboratory in which community members tinker, build, learn, and communicate. We need to stop being the grocery store or candy store and become the kitchen. We should emphasize hospitality, comfort, convenience and create work environments that invite exploration and creativity both virtually and physically.
The library as a kitchen – I love it.
And just what does this look like?
A couple weeks ago I was at West Bay Elementary for the opening of their new space. Recently, I have been to other formal and less formal tours at unveilings at a variety of schools including Eagle Harbour Montessori, Bowen Island Community School, Cypress Primary, Irwin Park Elementary and West Vancouver Secondary. There are many elements all of these spaces have in common. One immediately gets the sense that the primary goal was to draw more students in to do individual and collective work. There are spaces for silent study, but also other areas that often look more like a coffee shop than a traditional library. In listening to West Bay Principal Judy Duncan, describe their vision for their space, she said, “We believe the library is a hub of our school, a space where learners of all ages gather to learn through conversation, collaboration, independent study and purposeful play.”
Our work in West Vancouver, both with spaces and mindsets is not happening in isolation. We have been influenced by the work at universities, like this work at the University of British Columbia, the work at other schools in BC, like this work at John Oliver Secondary in Vancouver and the work at public libraries, including the efforts of our own local library – the West Vancouver Memorial Library. For my thinking, a particularly useful document is Facing the Future – A Vision Document for British Columbia’s Public Libraries. It’s author, Ken Roberts, the former Chief Librarian of the Hamilton Public Library, argues that “there is a growing realization that physical libraries are becoming even more important community spaces, places where people gather, share and learn from each other.” In short, the shift that public libraries are facing is the same ones that schools are facing and we have a lot to learn from and with each other. The BC Teacher Librarians’ Association, an amazingly thoughtful and forward-looking organization have also produced a document to help schools in the midst of the transition.
The photos below give a sense of some of the uses of the new space at West Bay, and what we are seeing across our district as we make these shifts.
For more on the specifics of this particular transformation, Principal Judy Duncan has blogged about Transforming Learning Spaces to Meet Today’s Learners.
At the recently held Ontario Library Conference, I made the argument that we can get hung-up on the money when it comes to learning commons spaces. But it is first about mindsets – we need to embrace new ways of learning and find ways for our space to reflect these changes and be the gathering places for our all our learners. The thinking around the learning commons is symbolizing the shifts we are seeing with learning throughout our schools.