Plenty has been written about the withdrawal of funding for school libraries and in some places the decision to close these resources altogether. The Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell, has even waded in to the discussion and encouraged parents to look at library provision instead of league tables when choosing schools.
There is no denying that the way we seek out and consume information has changed. With the answers to almost any question at our fingertips, it’s easy to make the mistake in thinking libraries no longer have a modern purpose. To the contrary, the best libraries are those which have made themselves part of the digital age and have a clear understanding of how both these spaces and resources can add real value to those that use them.
Libraries are morphing into and rebranding themselves as central hubs for learning. They are spaces where, in addition to finding and developing a love of reading books, digital skills can be developed, teamwork and collaborative projects can be supported in a resource rich environment and where media such as blogs and videos can be taught, viewed and created.
We must get past the idea that libraries are just a home for books. In fact, they are places where students can supplement their learning with vital skills that librarians are often best placed to impart. Students have a huge amount of information at their fingertips but do they have the skills to verify the source and credibility of what they’re consuming? In today’s information age students need the skills to cut through the deluge of information, know what to believe and have confidence in the credibility of the information they call on. Librarians are often custodians of these skills and are still integral to modern libraries.
We’ve designed and created library spaces for a wide number of learning and commercial environments and each one has the needs of the user at its heart. The school and college libraries we experienced when we were young are now, thankfully, replaced with bright colourful spaces that are technology rich and include a wide variety of areas suitable for different uses. While areas for lone reading are still very necessary – best practice libraries now cater for a much broader range of learning needs and include clear zones for group work, meeting rooms, training, quiet work and the development of digital skills.
Over the last few years there have been some innovative examples of educators finding ways to do things differently with their library provision. The University of Worcester and Worcestershire County Council have created Europe’s first fully integrated, jointly funded university and public library. Here, they have put public library books alongside university texts and have created study and computer spaces where students of all ages can work alongside members of the public. Meeting rooms ensure that students can collaborate without disrupting others and technological needs and facilities can be booked in advance too.
There is a groundswell of acceptance that we need to teach children how to learn independently, for it is impossible to teach them everything they need to know. With the prediction that today’s children will have six to seven different careers during their lives, it’s easy to see that an appetite for learning will be a requisite, lifelong skill.
In a Daily Telegraph article, the headmaster of Oakham School in Rutland, Nigel Lashbrook, captured the value of library resources when he said ‘Quite simply, school libraries, and their librarians, are critical to our children’s future.’ Make these well designed, technology-rich spaces that engage and inspire and we agree wholeheartedly that libraries can and will retain their place at the heart of education.
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