Friday, December 2, 2011

Library Space in a BYOT School

Four years ago, as faculty and students embraced the idea of collaborative experiences, I was part of a team of people trying to find space in a max’d out building for collaborative workspaces. The library was considered an ideal place to create some collaborative workspace: it was well lit, had seating conducive to collaborative work … and the necessary computers! Plus a local architectural firm analyzing our over-crowded, out-date space reported to us that a library as information commons should create “a comfortable environment where students like to meet, study and collaborate.”

Now, we are a few years in… the library is busier than ever. Two fantastic librarians are facilitating research experiences, supporting technology initiatives, constantly assessing resources in light of learning (electronic and print), experimenting with new hardware options (e-Readers, Chromebooks, tablets) and yes, checking out books. I witness students studying, collaborating or just sitting and reading. Environment where “students like to meet, study and collaborate” achieved.

Now on to the new challenges…130 high school students in one space (built for less than 100) effects both students and adults using the space. Many students prefer to work in the library because it is the one quiet space in the building dedicated to study. The library has a back wall of windows allowing for natural, soft light and a sense of natural space. The library has librarians… adults who can help navigate those days when you need a helping hand. But when so many students are in the space, the law of rising conversations applies. Table A must talk louder to be heard over Table B. Table B must then start talking a little louder to be heard over Table A. Table C talks even louder… and soon the din is comparable to the cafeteria. Students wishing for the quiet workspace are frustrated. This puts the librarians in “policing SHHHH” mode. And contrary to popular belief… no librarian really likes to spend their whole day shushing (really… I am speaking as a librarian here… I have more interesting things to do with my time).

The challenge of computer access is changing. Now, with the advent of BYOT, we are no longer tied to the library as THE space where students can access computers during the day. Wireless is throughout the building (even outside) and there are other spaces to work (cafeteria, Student Commons, lobby). Teachers and students are communicating more frequently via electronic means. This redefines the sense of a, one place to study and collaborate.

So what is the best use of the library space? This is how I have spent the last week… How to maintain a student focused workspace that respects those who need quiet space AND respects those more collaborative in nature? In what is essentially one big room! Suggestions welcome!

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