I am not always sure if comments to blogs ever get the attention they should. My last post about libraries as third places garnered some really fine observations and experiences. Librarians Scott Eskro, Katy Manck, Kenn Gorman, and Jane Hyde wrote to tell about how they were making their libraries in places where socialization was the norm in existing spaces. Go back - re-read.
But I was also delight to find my esteemed collegue and genuine library facilites expert, Rolf Erikson, leave this extended comment. With his permission, it is reposted here:
School libraries as a “third place” – what a great way to describe what those of us involved with 21st Century school library design aim to achieve.
The newly renovated Chelmsford (MA) high school library has, from students’ comments at the school, become for many their “third place.”
As I worked with Valerie Diggs on this project, I realized two essential elements were in place that contributed to the project’s success. One element was space: the library is 12,000 square feet, so deciding what to eliminate was not much of an issue. There was sufficient space to provide for the “academic requirements.” And there was space to provide a casual area with café and restaurant-type seating, sloped-shelving for fiction to facilitate ease of browsing, and a number of other interior design elements to make this area of the library visibly different. The second element was the desire on the part of the project’s stakeholders – library staff (led by Valerie’s vision, her open and creative mind, and her willingness to take chances), student and faculty representatives, administrators, and consultants – not to be bound by past traditions, but to create a truly innovative, 21st Century learning commons environment that would be inviting to students (Coffee in the library! Comfortable furniture!) – a space with a “playful mood,” where kids can hang out with friends. This is not your father’s school library. The educational role of the library program is not overshadowed, but the provision of “third place” zones has contributed to the overall success of the facility.
I realize that not many school librarians have the luxury of working with such large spaces. Nevertheless, I believe it is still within the realm of possibility to achieve similar, although perhaps less grand, results. As I see it, the need is for school librarians to think progressively, and accept the fact that maybe some space in the school library can be allocated for “third place” spaces by, for example, rejecting the notion that we need to maintain such large (and often outdated) print collections. Let’s create environments that students want to be in and use. Students at Chelmsford say that in the past, if they wanted a book, they would go to the public library because the school library was so unappealing. Now, the school library is the place to be.
We need our newly designed school libraries to be more like the one in Chelmsford. Of course school libraries have a serious academic mission, but the academic mission is more likely to succeed and be fulfilled if we create social environments that are relevant and comfortable to today’s students. We can find a happy medium, and school librarians must steer this trend; it is not likely to come from administrators or architects. If you are anywhere close to Chelmsford, MA, I urge you to visit. This is a model for our future.
Great sounding theories come at the rate of about two or three a day it seems. But it is thrilling when a good theory is actually turned into practice. Now THAT takes genius.
If you are interested in library design, be sure to check out Rolf's book Designing a School Library Media Center for the Future and the long interview he and I did: Imagining the Future of the School Library (with Christian Long), DesignShare, November, 2006.