Should School Libraries Make Way for New Development?

Are school libraries becoming outdated and old-fashioned?
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Schools are bound by their physical space. Sometimes they can expand but, more often than not, they are forced to contract. Expanding can be very difficult even in the best of times. After all, most schools are firmly ensconced in a community and there just isn’t land available. Because of this, when student bodies increase, administrators and school board officials have to figure out ways to maximize the space they have and consider which areas can be converted. Increasingly, those eyes are turning toward school libraries.

It’s easy to figure out why. Along with PE areas and the cafeteria, libraries are among the biggest rooms in the school. Many have row after row of bookshelves, space for quiet study, and other large areas. To some, this is seen as increasingly redundant and even wasteful. After all, most of the functions of a library can be done with a smartphone, tablet, or computer. The question is, are libraries are still important? How can schools maximize their space how can they best make use of limited property?

Threading the Extremes

There are two extremes in this debate: those who think libraries should remain the same and those who think they can be eliminated altogether. The first camp doesn’t have a chance; libraries are already changing. The second camp belongs to futurist utopians who believe that anything new is automatically good. But there’s a middle ground, and to reach that middle ground, we have to understand the place of a school library, both historically and now.

A school library has always been about much more than checking out books. It’s a place where students can go to ask professionals to help them with their research. It’s where they can consult people who have dedicated their lives to helping others gain knowledge. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a monument to quiet, where the noise of the hallways fade out and where students can focus on their work without distraction.

Today’s Library: A Digital Learning Environment

Some of that is redundant now. Rows and rows of the same books aren’t really needed when students can use eBooks. The same goes for maps, atlases, reference books, and other things that can easily be gotten in the computer lab or on a portable mobile device (with a caveat expressed below). There are arguments on both sides whether or not mobile tech is good for kids, but if managed well, it can be a force for learning.

Indeed, the library is becoming a digital learning environment, but that doesn’t mean its role has entirely changed. After all, the internet is a bewildering and often frightening place, full of more noise than signal, where it is difficult to get good information. Library professionals are still needed to help steer students to the right places and to help them with their research.

Another idea for the modern school library is that of a “learning commons,” which is more like a lyceum than a classic library. It’s a place where students are encouraged to talk, work on their mobile devices, share information, and collaborate. It’s essentially the same thing as the quiet area: a place to foster learning.

Knowing the role of a school library, we can talk about what can be eliminated, what can stay, and what can change when administrations are trying to maximize their space:

  • Redundant bookshelves: You’ll never hear me arguing against bookshelves; some of my happiest memories were of random discoveries in libraries, and the thrill of finding weird old book is something that shouldn’t be gotten rid of. Not everything is on an eBook. A lot is, though, and schools looking to clear space should do a realistic assessment of what can stay and what can go.
  • Common quiet areas: These should stay. It’s easy to say that everyone can do their own work on their tablets and that communication can easily be done in text or chat or through the cloud, but that ignores the real world, where quiet spaces are hard to find and there is no one to shush the noise away.
  • Common talking areas: If you decide to go with the “learning commons” idea, you need a space for it. Face-to-face communication is the heart of collaboration.

Some of the space from bookshelves, computer catalogues, and other redundant areas can be siphoned off into extra class space or used to transform the library into several different types of learning centers. It’s a changing world. We’ll always have a need for a library, a repository of ordered and accessible knowledge, but those needs are changing their shape. You can change the shape of your school by taking advantage of what the modern library has to offer.

If you are considering new development on your school’s property, you don’t have to go it alone. You can get a thorough analysis from a consultant whose community values align with your own. Contact DCG Real Estate today to learn more.