Libraries to Become Active Learning Spaces

Kentucky English teacher turned active-learning-space guru Brett Foster encouraged school librarians to give their libraries a major facelift and create spaces that nurture curiosity, encourage collaboration and spur creativity.

Speaking at the seventh annual School Libraries Systems Conference sponsored by Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES and Southern Westchester BOCES last week, Foster urged the librarians to “relinquish ownership of the space. It’s not your space,” he said. “It’s the students’ space.”

The conference brought together more than 100 librarians from Westchester and Putnam counties for a series of workshops that focused on transforming learning spaces, but also included topics such as fake news, digital media creation and building youth resilience and connections in troubled times.

The event also featured an “Exploratorium” with school library media specialists showcasing their work with robots, 3D printers, coding software and virtual reality headsets – all used in today’s library media centers. In addition, participants had the opportunity to explore new books for young children, tweens and teens and meet some authors.

Foster, who noted that libraries are often one of the largest spaces in a school but are utilized the least, has transformed library spaces in a number of schools and quoted evidence of the positive outcomes. He urged the library media specialists to “leverage digital space to maximize physical space.” In other words, he said, allow many textbooks and encyclopedias to be purged so the space can be used for a variety of inviting learning environments.

He also encouraged librarians to consider soundscaping as part of the library media center experience, and noted that playing music should not be considered alien in a library.

“We need to design the spaces for kids,” he said. “Make it inviting. Experiment – see what works.” He showed photos of students collaborating in a refurbished library, working in small groups seated on beanbags, working on laptops, collaborating on a whiteboard, even sitting on the floor. Although every library should have areas for quiet, private study, Foster explained, the library of today is a far cry from the silent space of old, with students working individually, seated around tables.

He suggested that desktop computers in a library should be at standing desks so students would gather the information they need and then move back to a collaborative space. “Desktop computers don’t allow for collaboration so we don’t want students spending too much time there.” They collaborate around personal learning devices like Chromebooks.

“My favorite part of the conference was the Exploratorium, where library media specialists were showcasing different tech tools that they are currently using in their libraries,” said Lindsay Valentine, library media specialist in the Brookside School in Ossining. “I always leave the School Libraries Conference with new teaching tools and a renewed excitement for working with students to help make them successful 21st century learners.”

Joseph Mannozzi, coordinator of the School Library System and Professional Library at Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES, thanked the regional school librarians who stepped up to share their innovations and expertise with a focus on meeting student learning needs. “It’s always wonderful to bring together so many school librarians for a day of learning,” he said.

Elizabeth Krieger, librarian at the George Fisher Middle School in Carmel, said “I thought the Redesigning Library Spaces workshop by Brendan Breen (Brewster High School) and Tara Phethean (Todd Elementary School, Briarcliff) was invaluable and very informative.” Krieger said she also took away many ideas from the session on Building Youth Resilience and Connections in Troubled Times.