Margaret Sullivan
Information Science
Material Type:
College / Upper Division
  • Base Knowledge
  • Hacker Space
  • Learning Commons
  • Maker Space
  • School Librarian Preparation
  • Space Planning
  • school-librarian-preparation
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    Creating Alternative School Library Environments


    Introduction to the Course

    This module will introduce students to the overall goals of the course, contextualizing the creation of alternative library spaces within two key movements currently seeking to transform library spaces:  Learning Commons and MakerSpaces. Students will be asked to begin reflecting on the complex factors which are involved in successful planning and implementiation of transformative solutions in their school library settings.

    Two suggestions for a final project for the course are: 


    Have each student document where they believe their library is in its evolution of change, explain how its current environment is supporting inquiry for students in their school today.  Then using tools from the course develop a plan for obtaining the information needed to project into the future what their school library and school could be in the next 10 years.   Develop a persuasive argument to present to school administrators why resources should be allocated to initiate the plan.  How could the plan improve student learning, enrich instruction and support the mission of the school?   How would the physical space and your role within it change?

    Alternative Project

    Your district is launching a new STEM Charter Middle School in the next year.  Initially there is no plan for a library in the Charter School; it will be a one-to-one environment, large studio style learning environments, extensive access to technology, and planners have decided a library is too“traditional” and unnecessary in the new building.   Consider the educational model, the curriculum, the diversity of instructors and students and why the district has approved this concept for new construction.  You believe strongly that the new school needs the inquiry based skills a librarian can provide and ask for the opportunity to present an alternative library concept to the board.  The school board gives you six months to research, compile data, and you have access to the original concept team of educators and the school design team as you plan.   Prepare your presentation for the board. 





    Introduction to the Course

    Introduce students to the overall goals of the course. 

    In this course we will look at ways to change the narrative on school libraries from questioning the need for them or how to renovate the industrial era models of a single, shared resource environment to a learner-centered model.  We will work on how to move beyond traditional concepts, personal biases and even past current Learning Commons and Maker Spaces to creating learning environments where resources are ubiquitously accessible to students in virtual and physical formats.

    We will look at the enormous complexity of this model in a K-12 school and why not exploring unique, alternative concepts may be hastening the elimination of school librarians.

    K-12 school libraries are unique entities.  They are unique because school library users lack base knowledge.  It is that simple.  The users have limited life and learning experiences, they are exploring inquiry based learning skills and their reading skills literally run a gambit from nothing to highly proficient.   Over the course of 13 years they accumulate base knowledge.  School libraries must be planned as multi-tier, multi-functioning units based on the user’s needs.   And this is why planning is so complex; the user's needs are consistently evolving and thus complex.

    Considering a Learning Commons or Maker Space as Your School Library

    Ask students to review the Educase article and Edutopia blog on the concept of the Learning Commons, and then to reflect on what these concepts mean for users, staff, and implementors, and what the potential benefits or pitfalls might be.

    Currently there is a serious push to re-imagine school libraries into a Learning Commons.  And a few years ago there was a movement to transform the library into a Maker Space.  Both concepts are valuable but need to be thought through prior to jumping onto a band wagon.  It is your responsibility to manage space to further your school's pedagogy and enrich student learning.  Pursuing either concept requires planning and funding.  Curriculum for both concepts is available and should be studied prior to advocating for dramatic space changes.  Either concept can and will increase student use of the library which can be your sole goal.  It can be far more rewarding for students if you seriously consider how one of these models best fits your school. 

    The Pitfalls of Asking for a Brand

    You must be able to clearly define what a Learning Commons or a Maker Space means and how it will function in your school before asking for one by name.  Architects, interior designers and school administrators will all have their own concept as to what the brand means.  The spaces were born in non-K-12 environments, they do not necessarily require a licensed librarian to function, and can undermine your irreplaceable role in student learning.  

    University library users must be self motivated learners and proficient readers.  The Learning Commons brand was developed for this level of user.   Its distinctive features reflect that level of user sophistication.  The spaces are frequently open for extended periods of time with multiple curriculum support staff adding to their widespread popularity with older college age students. 

    Students may be experienced users of public libraries for enjoyment but lack base knowledge to work independently in a maker/hacker space.   The cornerstone of these branded spaces mixes expensive technology and fabrication equipment plus embraces artisans and inventors who come to the public library to create.  Users are hands-on creators based on their experience, research, and innovation problem solving.   

    These types of active, school learning environments are now common in connection to STEM/STEAM, Fab Labs and Industrial Design Courses.   Incorporating a 3D printers and crafts into your school library no longer denotes a maker space in similar magnitude.   Today expectations are much higher. 

    Learning Commons and Maker Space Evaluations

    Ask students to evaluate the potential value of Learning Commons or MakerSpace resources for their settings.

    Choose to have students complete either Task 1 or 2, or both.

    Task 1A

    Consider each feature of the original Learning Commons brand, what it means and how it would translate into your space, staffing and pedagogy.   What are the benefits for your users?

    • Focus on User Needs Rather Than Content
    • User Team Collaboration Spaces
    • Flexible, Easily Adaptable Furnishings
    • Computer Clusters Replace Computer Labs
    • Tutorial Programs
    • Academic Support Centers
    • 24/7 Access
    • Digital Studios with advanced software and production tools
    • Multimedia Presentation Centers with collaboration and rehearsal space
    • Media Consumption with reading, listening and viewing spaces
    • Private, Personal Study Spaces
    • Casual Interaction Space such as: 
    • o   Lounge spaces
    • o   Café spaces
    • o   Social networking
    • o   Gaming
    • Faculty Development Centers
    • Instructional/Mentoring Spaces
    • Multiple Service Points such as:
    • o   Central and satellite stations
    • o   Staffing: librarians, faculty, tutoring, and teaching assistants
    • o   IT and data management expertise
    • Equipment Burrowing Services

    Task: 1B

    Ask yourself why Maker Space resources should be included in a school library?  And why should a school librarian assume control of the resources?  Why not?  Now consider The Kansas City article and watch the video.  List the pro and cons of including a maker space in your school library, how would you promote the new space to your school administration, and how would you adjust your time, mentoring, and resources to successfully supervise a maker space?   What are the benefits to the user?