April is the American Association of School Librarians’ School Library Month, recognizing the essential role that libraries play in transforming learning – in fact, the 2016 School Library Month theme is “School Libraries Transform Learning.”
Today, libraries themselves are undergoing transformative changes. With a much greater focus on technology integration, new media, and 21st Century Learning themes such as collaboration, the traditional concept of what a library can be is evolving. These advancements are fundamentally changing the library landscape in American schools.
School Specialty, a leading distributor of supplies, furniture, and both curriculum and supplemental learning resources to the education marketplace, has supported the advancement of libraries across the country through the expert insight and installation of modern educational furniture & equipment. The Company’s Projects by Design (PbD) division, which has more than 20 years of experience furnishing educational facilities at every level, has led the charge in modern library development at a number of innovative new schools and refurbishments.
In the fall of 2015, PbD assisted the Amarillo Independent School District in Amarillo, Texas in furnishing the new Travis Sixth Grade Center with furniture & equipment that enhances active learning and 21st Century Skills development. The entire school has a focus on collaborative teaching and learning, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the library, or media center. The term media center is often used to describe modern school libraries, and is indicative of the focus on technology in these forward-thinking spaces.
While books remain a critical aspect of school libraries, new “media centers” increasingly focus on electronic resources that fulfill the needs of the 21st Century student. A major aspect of 21st Century Learning is technology literacy, and the Travis Sixth Grade Center’s media center is integrated with technology that provides students with access to a wide array of digital reference materials.
An additional major focus of 21st Century Learning is collaborative learning and group projects, both of which are facilitated in the Travis Sixth Grade Center. With a focus on technology, the media center has less shelving than traditional libraries, and as a result there is more room for soft seating and mobile furniture that can be easily rearranged for a variety of projects. PbD outfitted the space with a variety of modern, flexible furniture from Media Technologies, an innovative vendor with which School Specialty has a strong relationship.
Another cutting-edge library for which PbD deployed 21st Century furniture and equipment is located at Stroudsburg High School in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Stemming from meetings between the PbD team, the school librarian and other administrators, it was decided that the new library should be a central hub of student engagement. All parties determined that the revamped space should be not just a library, but also a place for students to meet, collaborate, study and relax.
To accomplish this goal, PbD outfitted the new library with a variety of different furniture so that students could utilize the space according to their individual needs. As part of the school’s new focus on technology, PbD provided tables with outlets, mounts for laptops and other integration for students’ mobile devices. Administrators wanted the library to be a place for students to gather, so PbD furnished the space with comfortable chairs, roomy tables and soft seating for a relaxing area designed with a café layout.
When the Stroudsburg High overhaul began, the District decided to include the school colors and other branding throughout. This was especially important in the library because it is one of the most-used areas of the school. PbD provided furniture customized with the Stroudsburg school colors – maroon, grey and white – everywhere in the library.
The new Stroudsburg library is an incredible space and so far has been a resounding success. The District wanted the library to become a place where students would want to spend time, and that has absolutely been the case since its completion. PbD was able to customize most of the furniture with Stroudsburg’s school colors to enhance the sense of community for students and educators. As a result, the new library is exactly what administrators envisioned – a place in which students feel comfortable to engage with each other and share ideas.
Flora Elementary School in Flora, Illinois is the PbD project that is perhaps the most indicative of the transformation of modern libraries. As with the Travis Sixth Grade Center in Texas, the library at the brand-new Flora facility could more accurately be referred to as a media center given its forward-thinking design, as well as the furniture and equipment that PbD installed in support of 21st Century Learning goals. The beautiful space, which offers students and teachers a wide range of educational experiences and learning mediums, has become the focal point of Flora Elementary.
Variety is paramount at the Flora media center, which includes standard lecture areas for traditional instruction or presentations, as well as more secluded, quiet areas for individual assignments. In other areas, small group projects are encouraged in line with 21st Century Learning initiatives. Throughout the media center, PbD supplied a variety of flexible and mobile furniture that can be easily rearranged to facilitate all types of learning methods.
The media center provides flexibility, and similar to Stroudsburg High School’s library it is a social center in addition to a learning environment. Several areas have a coffee shop aesthetic, and PbD outfitted them with a range of soft seating so that students are further inclined to relax and socialize. With the addition of this comfortable furniture, much of the space is similar to a lounge, allowing students to make themselves comfortable and unwind.
Another critical element of the media center is the technology that is integrated throughout. It contains a variety of computer labs, some that are casual and some more formal for rigorous projects. Reading areas and student workstations provided by PbD’s vendor partners include charging ports to facilitate uninterrupted use of mobile devices. Laptops and tablets have become critical to the learning experience, as students utilize them for research and to create unique materials for their assignments. District administrators wanted to ensure that the vast wealth of knowledge available on the Internet was never far from reach.
A variety of mobile furniture solutions provided by School Specialty populate the media center, with one furniture item that has been particularly well received by students and staff. School Specialty’s Classroom Select™ NeoMove™ seating solutions were specially selected for the guided reading activity tables. These unique seating options allow students to gently rock while sitting, both front-to-back and side-to-side. The gentle movement afforded by these seating options supports research proving that movement enhances focus, memory and cognitive flexibility, which in turn improves academic performance.
As evidenced by the recent projects at Travis Sixth Grade Center, Stroudsburg High School and Flora Elementary School, the design and use of school libraries are undergoing transformative changes. As technology becomes more and more critical to education and students are able to utilize electronic devices for their research and schoolwork, the reliance on books is decreasing and therefore shelving is less important in libraries. This, in turn, frees up space for flexible, mobile furniture and soft seating, encouraging students to collaborate and utilize libraries in a variety of ways that best suit their learning styles. The increasing focus on variety as part of the 21st Century Learning methodology is transforming the makeup of schools across the country, and libraries often become the most innovative environments given their size and importance to the learning experience for students of all ages.