Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Learning Environments and Academic Success

The average public school building in America is forty-two years old and was not designed to meet the demands of current and future technology.

Yesterday voters in Portland, Oregon rejected a bond to upgrade Portland’s World War II-era school buildings. Historically, Portland voters have given overwhelming approval to school money measures. (Follow this link for an excellent column that encouraged a “Yes” vote.)

Over the past two decades numerous studies have explored the relationship between the quality of school facilities and student achievement. Positive correlations were found as early as 1992. Experts in the field of brain research are convinced that a learner's surroundings greatly impact his or her ability to learn.

I am troubled by the fact that we are failing our children by failing to provide adequate learning environments. To me this seems dangerously shortsighted, as children are our future.

How can our children feel valued when they must spend their school days in facilities that are outdated and ill-equipped, facilities where even environmental safety is suspect? As educators we need to do everything in our power to reverse this alarming trend and to fight for adequate learning environments for our children. 

If we are fortunate to work in schools where new and renovated school library facilities are planned, our goal should be to provide libraries that send to our children the messages “this is a place where I can learn,” and “this is a place where I am welcome.”

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Stories about Libraries

Multimedia Centre in Armentières (France)

Médiathèque BDIV de Fougères (France
Dezeen, an architecture and design e-zine, has grouped together from their archives all their stories about libraries. Dezeen archives: libraries is a great place to see some amazing library architecture from around the World. I would love to visit each of these libraries. Failing that, I'll be content with being an armchair traveler.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ideas (Good and Bad) from a Public Library: Almere Library, the Netherlands

The planners of this library took a look at how retail stores appeal to customers. They came up with new ideas for displaying books to make them more browsing friendly. Duplicate copies of titles are stacked vertically. Customers can grab a copy from the top without other titles falling over, which happens in traditional shelving.
It's useful to glean ideas from retail stores, to look for things that might work well in a school library. We do, after all, need to challenge old ways of doing things. However, we need to be careful that we don’t take it too far. We are, after all, libraries not bookstores.
In this library I like the overall ambiance. It’s fresh, new, and exciting. Lots of visual appeal. I also like the way functions such as seating, workplaces, and info terminals are integrated into the bookcases.
This is an interesting rug. It must indicate a cell phone zone.
They might work in a public library, but I’m pretty certain the light fixtures built into the bench seating would never hold up in a school library. They are begging for abuse. I’m also puzzled by the sheer number of cube stools in the children's area. It looks strange, a bit like a demolition zone, and what child could resist a real romp here.

When you look at other libraries and public spaces, make a note of what you like and dislike, what you think could work in a school library and what you are pretty certain would not.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Looking at Non-library Public Spaces for Inspiration

It’s good to look beyond libraries when getting ideas for library interiors. I’ve been looking at pictures of the recently remodeled Groninger Museum in the Netherlands. I’m especially intrigued by the museum’s new info center, one of the coolest areas in the new building. In the middle of the room, desks with hoods covering computers create private booth-like spaces for browsing. Visitors here will feel they have entered a special place.
Here are some comments from the Spanish designer Jaime Hayón:
“The idea behind the info center was to come up with a new approach for this sort of space that is traditionally cold and impersonal. Our aim was to integrate the latest technology into it without making this visible. The center would retain a homey feel to it and would be functional as well as flexible. The table with niches allows for privacy and concentration and it also provides plenty of traditional table surface for any other use”.
What can we learn from looking at this space? Perhaps the most important lesson is that it does not have an institutional look or feel. How many new school libraries can claim this? This info center is cool, and don’t we want our students to feel that their school library is cool? While it is not likely that a school library would ever receive the kind of funding that this museum info center received (most of the furniture is custom designed), this is not a reason to dismiss the concepts as out of reach. With some creativity, ingenuity, and a willingness to look beyond what has been done in the past, I maintain that a school library space can be created that is the coolest space in the school.