Changes in Libraries

Library Self Check Outby Ken Best, AIA, ALA

As library designers we have seen libraries change and evolve.  Today’s modern library is a different experience than the clichéd silent building of yesteryear.  Let’s explore some of the more significant changes.

Entering an older library, we are used to seeing a large, high, circulation desk with staff, heads down working away. Not a particularly welcoming situation. In contrast the modern library has no circulation desk but instead small, mobile desks with a very different function.  Materials no longer must go to a desk for check-in or check-out but, instead are handled through automation; automatic systems to check in materials and sort them into any number of categories for re-shelving by staff; computerized self-check systems allow the patrons to check out materials, reserve books, and to see what the library has to offer.  These two items greatly reduce the administrative tasks that formally consumed much of their time.

Without the demand of tending to circulation needs, staff can now spend more time with patrons.  A person may arrive at the library looking for a specific service and in the course of conversation, staff may mention other services or resources and hear the patron reply, “I didn’t know that was available.” One measure of the success of a library is based on the number of questions they are asked and the inverse for the number of times they need to say “no” when asked for asked for a particular service.

With the barrier of the old-style circulation desks gone, staff have more freedom to connect with patrons and to find out how they can help. Librarians are also learning more about the towns in which they work, visiting the town’s various departments to find out more about local issues, and by checking with schools to find out what is new for them. In this way, librarians are better equipped to converse with patrons, and in doing so, transition to what the library offers and how better they can serve the patrons.

The same hands-on approach also applies to the information desks. Reference staff are mobile and seek out patrons who may need help instead of waiting for a patron to come to them.

Makerspaces are prominent in libraries and provide a place to gather, use resources and equipment and learn.  Originally designed around 3D printers many libraries have been exploring other hands-on programs. These may include art classes, sewing, knitting groups, and electronics, and just about anything that one can imagine.  Although the line is often drawn with hazardous tasks that require special supervision such as woodworking.

A library’s offerings have also changed. One library may have a seed swap to take home and plant while another has cake pans available to borrow.  Although the predominant collections are still books; music, DVD’s, books on CD or for your reader, manga, comics, magazines, and newspapers are all available at libraries. For the youth, expect to see a computer gaming area with a large TV, sound system and space for others to watch. This is appropriate for the library because  games are another way for kids to learn and socialize.

Libraries are no longer quiet places where staff shush patrons, but there is still need for quiet areas.  Small study rooms are provided for group projects, small meetings, tutoring or study sessions.  These rooms are usually granted on a first come, first served basis, but can also be reserved.

Wakelin Community Room copyAnother important feature is the Program Room. These multi-purpose spaces bring together the resources of the library and the interests and activities of the community. They tend to be large, with seating for 80 to 200 people often with folding partitions to further divide the space. Like other library spaces, flexibility is key and having flat floors allow the greatest number of program uses; art shows, lectures, concerts, and movies, to name a few. Oftentimes these are the largest spaces available to the communities they serve.

The modern library is more welcoming and more user-friendly building than in the past. We can be sure that changes will continue as technology and the needs of the public continue to shift.  We can also be sure that libraries will continue to provide access to knowledge in all its forms. ♦


Makerspaces in Your School?

makerspace-blog-image1By Greg Barrett, M.Ed, REFP / Educational Planner

Makerspaces are increasingly popular outlets for the Do It Yourself movement, and students and adults stand to learn a lot from them.

Defining Makerspaces

What is a makerspace, anyway? People can be judgmental. Librarian turned makerspace guru Diana Rendina posts on Renovated Learning that she was taken back by a comment that her library’s makerspace wasn’t real because it lacked power tools, pulling the plug – at least in the eyes of some – on its makerspace title. But are makerspaces really defined by what’s found inside them?

Though there are helpful lists for what would be good to have in makerspaces, like’s Makerspace Playbook, these are not completely prescriptive, because the “Do It Yourself” movement is less interested in telling you what to do, rather simply encouraging you to do it. School-based makerspaces thus have an array of disciplines to choose from, with educational benefits in tow for just about any one they choose.

Compare these to community makerspaces, ones that are winning grants and selling memberships to adults, ones that are undoubtedly trying to be the “real thing”; these makerspaces are not defined by the tools they have available. In fact, a celebrated part of the maker movement is how broad the set of skills and activities are for one to learn. Here in the Greater Boston Area alone, you can find makerspaces that run the gamut from textiles and sewing machines, to heavy-duty digital imaging and 3D printers. Do these spaces have every trade’s tools? No. Are all of them still makerspaces? You bet. Schools take note: you are free to make what you like.

The point of a makerspace is the ability to… you saw this coming… to make. Maker Media defines makerspaces as “Learning environments rich with possibilities that serve as gathering points where communities of new and experienced makers connect to work on real and personally meaningful projects, informed by helpful mentors and expertise, using new technologies and traditional tools.” This may be a more complete vision of their ideal making environment; one which schools are capable of offering.

School-Based Makerspaces

Empowered to design a makerspace in a school, we should ask ourselves a question: Why would anyone want a makerspace in a school at all? Is it necessary to have one in the school? It may be suitable to a school community for number of reasons.

…schools may be the only point of access to these skills….

Schools may be the only point of access to these skills and experiences to their student population and community more broadly. Makerspaces are not easy enterprises to start; they need space, materials, tools, utilities, members, and the list continues. Though many are funded through grants and memberships, there are many areas where access to creative, collaborative workspaces are simply unavailable. For many youngsters, that means these learning opportunities are only available at other schools or in other towns which may be out of reach. I think districts will increasingly find that they want to create these spaces not only to provide greater access, but because makerspaces align to some core concerns of 21st Century Learning.

Makerspaces support gobs of educational goals of a given school: interdisciplinary learning, collaborative learning, project-based learning, and active learning, just to name a few. Imagine history and science teachers coming together to study Nikola Tesla’s groundbreaking work in electricity with a joint project in the makerspace where looking for more ways to better connect to the community, as Anne O’Brien illustrates with a couple of example districts on Edutopia. A makerspace can be a wonderful conduit between schools and their communities. Plenty of people in a community have skills that they are willing to teach on a volunteer basis, plenty of others-–including students –-want to learn these skills. Bringing them together in a makerspace is a great way to foster community building.

At a recent DRA public visioning session, senior members of the community expressed excitement about the prospect of a space where they could possibly teach future students skills that they had learned at that very high school decades before. Students and community members might agree that these skills are still worth learning, and a makerspace can support that while also strengthening community bonds in a safe and useful common space.

If districts think that they would only like students to use a makerspace, opening that makerspace to the whole student body is a great peer-to-peer learning environment, especially if that student body is a district-wide, multi-aged group. Supervised, younger students learn from more relatable (i.e., cooler) and experienced older student-mentors, and these older students deepen their understanding through higher order thinking skills like explaining, demonstrating, and creating with subject matter. It’s a win-win for both students, not to mention that it is for the school as well.

makerspace-image2Makerspaces aren’t your father’s craft shop. They are wide ranging in discipline and built for creativity and innovation. That said, having a parent or two or other committed community members in your makerspace can add to the learning opportunities and community bonds in the school. Find out what gets your students excited, connect it to your curriculum, and see what happens when you supply the relevant tools, materials, and staff. From the looks of makerspaces that do these things, you may find students accomplishing some of their brightest ideas.