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Death of the library?

August 5, 2008

My new Plurk friend Carol Vanhook just posted an interesting question:

vanhookc wants to hear anyone’s ideas of high school library cafes! Building new HS with cafe; taking to school board for Oct. approval–outsourcing!!!

Have to admit, my mind had never wrapped around this idea before! In business, we know happy employees are healthy and productive employees. It would stand to reason that the same would hold true for students in a school. I’ve watched as cafeterias in many of our nearby schools have become food courts, and large student commons areas have been divided into more intimate atriums and gardens with lots of year round natural light and plants.

I do admit, that I feel good when I enter these spaces. And I think that the students value them as well, as generally vandalism is down, and care and upkeep seem to be high.

But I’ve never considered putting a library back to back with the kitchen! In fact, I think in most of our schools, the two are usually pretty far apart. While Barnes and Noble pioneered the Coffee Shop Bookstore, and magazine stands moved into the local Starbucks – it never occurred to me that perhaps it was time for our schools to start rethinking the library spaces beyond just providing students WiFi access.

Would this encourage reading? Would it have any impact on student achievement? Do students already like to “hang out” in the library to avoid the over stimulating atmosphere in other common areas since the library has generally been a quiet and productive haven?

Have to admit: the idea is somewhat sexy. I do like the idea of a space where the chairs are comfy, and fruit juice, bottled water, and perhaps at some time of the day even regular coffee is available for both staff and students. I like the idea of tall tables with somewhat public computer screens, where a small group of students can gather around, and discuss in relatively quiet voices. I like the idea of magazine racks, and the “atmosphere” created in a coffee shop.

But I think I would also mourn the loss of the quiet and focused atmosphere of the “library.” (Just go to any college campus, and you’re likely to see coffee shops and all kinds of rich meeting spaces all over the “library” – so this isn’t so much of a stretch of the imagination as my mind just had not gone there yet.)

I hope Carol keeps us posted with how it turns out!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 21stcliteracy permalink
    August 5, 2008 9:21 pm

    What a beautiful piece of writing! I am glad to see your endorsement of the idea. By design, the library is triangular and sits on a long rectangular row of rooms. The library cafe, yet to be truly named, is a corner room within the rectangular section. Guess what’s next door? Yes, the professional library! Just outside these two rooms, now within the triangular section, is a game area. You know–chess, chess, chess. I chuckled at your mention of magazines. Around the game center are stacks of magazines for checkout, a variety of perhaps 90 titles, everything from A to Z. This whole area is tiled for ease of food/drink cleanup.

    Stepping forward into the triangular room, just beyond the stacks and at the endpoint, is a welcome center, soft seating area. This area is on carpet, no food, and “please be quiet” for serene reading. Oh this school loves puzzles, so the puzzle center will be here, too. Surrounding this area are the current issues of magazines and papers–not for checkout!

    Where are the computers? There are two computer labs and a few more computers scattered in this library.

    Does this paint a good picture? In construction: http://tinyurl.com/648332

    Hopefully, this library will appeal to all! Thanks for your thoughts. You have given me a beautiful piece to share with school board!

  2. August 20, 2008 10:43 am

    “But I think I would also mourn the loss of the quiet and focused atmosphere of the “library.” (Just go to any college campus, and you’re likely to see coffee shops and all kinds of rich meeting spaces all over the “library” – so this isn’t so much of a stretch of the imagination as my mind just had not gone there yet.)”

    But it is good to keep in mind that students and faculty still do desire quiet places for study and reflection. Our own library instituted a learning commons with cafe a few years ago but recognized this need and created a top floor “Quiet Zone” away from the hustle and bustle of the activity on the main and ground floors.

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